Algae and the Spirit of Aloha

February 8, 2017 |

BD TS 020917 Aloha cover sm

If you’ve been to Hawaii, you’ve heard the greeting Aloha, and perhaps someone told you the word is used in greeting, departure, and also in expressing love. But you might not know that Aloha goes a little deeper in the old Hawaiian teaching:

When food is needed I will take only my need and explain why it is being taken. 
The earth, the sky, the sea are mine to care for, to cherish and to protect. 
This is Hawaiian – this is Aloha!

It’s for that reason that the “spirit of aloha” of which you’ll also hear as a tourist, is usually related right back to sustainability. And why it is a nice development that a little Hawaiian sunshine, water and CO2 used to make Cellana algae is now going to be used to make sustainable algae inks that figure in the greeting cards that are a first sustainable ink application from Living Ink Technologies. Living Ink aims to replace petroleum-based inks with algae-ink, and this week they signed a letter of intent for the joint development and commercialization of inks containing Cellana’s renewable algae biomass.

Aloha card 2

My initial expectation was that Living Ink would use the oil fraction of algae — since conventional inks are made from petroleum oil. But it turns out they will use whole algae biomass, grown in Hawaii at Cellana’s farm and shipped off to Colorado where Living Ink is located, near Colorado State University.

The volumes and prices? That will remain a mystery for now, but think high-value and low-volume, for now. As Cellana’s COO David Anton told The Digest, “Living Ink are working on the formulations based on our algae, and they are just now establishing their customer base.

The Global Ink market

The ink market is big. Overall, it was estimated here at $20B worldwide. Most of that in industrial printing inks that would be a “down the line” application for Living Ink, which has focused initially on inks for silk-screening applications  — such as the greeting card shown here below. Overall, the global ink market is fragmented. $2.6B for flexographic inks, $2B for gravure inks (these are different printing processes).

But the fastest-growing segment is inks for inkjet printers and that is Living Ink’s next step in the journey towards scale. According to this estimate, the market could reach as high as $5B this year. And if you’ve purchased new printing ink any time recently, you’ll know that inkjet inks are sky-high in price. Replacement cartridges can run up to $70 for color printing.

But there’s demand for sustainable inks — that’s the entire reason for soy-based inks, which have made substantial inroads into conventional printers, one limitation being that soy-based inks tend to dry more slowly, and high-speed presses that need fast-drying inks to avoid smudging have generally been off-limits for sustainable alternatives. Also, there are printed fabrics that use inkjet technology.

So think about all those Hawaiian shirts that could be made more sustainably.


One of the coolest aspects of this deal is that ink is easier for consumers to experience and relate to tha, say, fish meal or fuels. “We think this a very differentiated opportunity,” David Anton remarked, “

We’re talking with living Ink about things you can purchase in Hawaii, like the greeting card they have initially produced, where you can take back some of Hawaii with you when you leave, a little bit of the spirit of Aloha.”


Well, it’s the early-stage algae industry, and we’re pleasantly surprised that there’s anything except a sea of red ink.

But there are a range of alternatives — from a greenish-brown to a more solid-green and even a golden hue, and this from Cellana’s existing library of 100 production strains. Who knows what colors in your Crayola box that future algae might be persuaded to make. Earthrise has been working hard on a blue pigment, and Living Ink has reportedly been at work on a near-black ink form cyanobacteria. Obviously, the octopi got their skill for making black ink from someone.

Aloha card

The Living Ink backstory

In November 2015, we reported that Living Ink was  releasing the world’s first time-lapse ink on Kickstarter. Living Ink is a patent-pending time-lapse ink that grows when exposed to light, based on sustainable algae. “Imagine receiving a greeting card in the mail that says, “Happy Birthday” and the next day a cake appears, and on the following day, candles appear on the cake,” said company CEO Scott Fulbright ay the time.

The company raised over $100,000 through business pitch competitions including The United States Department of Energy, SXSW, University of Colorado, Colorado State University, and the Blue Ocean Enterprise Challenge.

The Cellana latest

Currently, Cellana produces industrial-scale quantities of ReNew Algae — high-value algae biomass rich in Omega-3 nutritional oils, proteins, pigments, fuel-grade oils, cosmetic-grade oils, acids and polysaccharides, as well as other valuable micronutrients — at its Kona Demonstration Facility in Hawaii. Cellana will supply Living Ink with whole algae biomass from its Kona Demonstration Facility, and Living Ink will formulate inks and be the route to market. Financial terms of the agreement were not disclosed.

At ABLC Next 2016, Cellana revealed a letter of intent with PIVEG for commercialization of Omega-3 oils and other high-value applications from algae biomass. Cellana will supply PIVEG with material from its Kona Demonstration Facility, and PIVEG will utilize its existing processing equipment and facilities in Central Mexico, while the parties explore the development of larger-scale commercial algae biomass production facilities in Hawaii and Mexico.  It was one of the very first commercial-scale agreements in the algae industry — and a pathway for Cellana to move seamlessly from initial production out of its Kona demonstration facility to its commercial-scale farm. re/

Cellana Multi-Slide Guide

It’s here.

Reaction from the principals

”Living Ink has a unique position to use algae in a high-value application, making use of the inherent sustainability of our Hawaii-produced material,” stated Martin Sabarsky, Cellana’s chief executive officer. “This innovative use of algae to replace traditional, petroleum-based and often toxic ink components is a win-win-win for the ink and algae biomass industries, consumers and the environment,” Sabarsky added.

“Cellana is a leader in growing diverse algae outdoors using sunlight, seawater and CO2, and we are excited to find a commercial source of sustainably grown algae to fuel the expansion of our company and industry,” stated Scott Fulbright, Ph.D., co-founder and chief executive officer of Living Ink. “This new commercial relationship will help accelerate Living Ink’s product development and business development initiatives to produce and sell a range of different renewable inks and print products containing renewable ink,” continued Dr. Fulbright.

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