7 Days from Seed to Harvest: Cellana, and the rise of algae in a world seeking more, faster, better

September 12, 2017 |

Farm-building

Given that you can build a Cellana-type farm anywhere you have warm sunlight and seawater, there are lots and lot of non-arable locations to consider. Ideally, near a population or animal husbandry center that can make use of the protein without global shipment of feed or food.

Think island economies with growing populations, short on arable land and fossil fuel reserves. Or, tiger economies in Asia facing a shift to higher-protein diets as personal income rises. Or, think “Middle East”, because not every country has massive petroleum reserves, but there is a lot of coast line, and population is rising and protein is an issue. Possibly think Africa or India as a location, should countries short on water choose to reduce their own agricultural water intensity by importing more food. Or, for distribution in their own domestic markets.

The economics

According to Cellana, the economics for their algae farm look strong based on an 80-acre commercial development which would include roughly 50 acres in ponds. That’s about the size of the neighboring Cyanotech operation (which makes astaxanthin and spirulina).

It’s not exactly 40 acres and a mule, but it’s certainly a lot closer to the size of agriculture as practiced by families and  their handful of farm hands around a century ago. In the early 1900s, a homesteader could gain title to up to 160 acres of land after occupying for five years and meeting a required level of improvement.

Establishing an algae farm is more expensive than establishing a traditional farm, in most of the conventional ways we look at it. But think of the cost to buy good land. $10,000 per acre in some areas — for a corn grower, that’s about 1.5 tons of protein per year, or around $6000 in establishment costs per ton of protein per year, for the acquisition of the growing medium, the soil.

In an algae farm you build the “soil” – which is to say, the open pond. The Cellana Demonstration farm produces 12X as much protein per year. That’s worth considering when comparing capex costs for establishing a farm — which, for algae, are daunting. Think in terms of $22,000 per ton of first-year protein — according to this analysis from Cellana.

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