Pebbles into boulders: Heliae takes its algae technology to Japan in JV with Sincere Corporation 

July 1, 2014 |


Heliae partners with Sincere Corporation for algae production venture to meet Japanese market demand for sustainable ingredients 

In Arizona, Heliae announced a joint venture with top Japanese waste management and recycling company, Sincere Corporation, to develop a commercial algae production facility in Saga City, Japan. The joint venture has been named Alvita Corporation, and will combine Sincere Corporation’s operational skill, distribution networks and knowledge of the Japanese market with Heliae’s proprietary algae production technology to supply natural astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant with broad health benefits, to the growing health and wellness market in the region. As Heliae grows, it might remind the casual observer of Japanese culture of the spare, stirring phrases of Japan’s national anthem:

May your reign Continue for a thousand, eight thousand generations, Until the pebbles Grow into boulders Lush with moss

Er, remind me about Heliae, again

Heliae develops advanced algae strains, production technology, and downstream processing equipment to optimize algae production for a range of product targets in the nutrition, therapeutics, agrosciences, health & beauty and specialty chemicals and fuels fields. It’s backed by, among others, the Mars family.

Heliae offers clients access to its library of wild and enhanced algae strains, each selected and honed for key attributes to offer a wide range of product and service functionality.

Heliae offers a series of commercially-validated algae production systems — including strain screening, in-situ mobile pilot systems, seed production units, and the Volaris production platform.

Also, Heliae has developed comprehensive contamination management systems and protocols to catch contamination early and solve problems long before cultures crash, quality is degraded, and operational performance suffers.

In January 2014, Heliae Development had booked $4.2 million in sales for their raceway-based algae growing technology, after completing a $13 million demonstration plant. Although the company has equipment on site to develop fuels from the algae, and the company has previously turned algae into jet fuel on site, Heliae is focusing on the growing side of the equation. The company brought in more than $1 million in revenue last year.

In April 2013, Heliae is announcing the launch of its new microalgae production platform, Volaris. Volaris is the result of five years of targeted innovation, investment and commitment to delivering a commercially validated technology platform for producing high purity microalgae at competitive prices.

Deployment of the Volaris platform will support commercial activities in Heliae’s target markets including nutrition, therapeutics, health & beauty, and agrosciences. The company said that Volaris will play an important role in Heliae’s new 20-acre commercial facility currently under construction in Gilbert, Ariz., slated to open in late Q3 of 2013 — and other commercialization activity (think expansion to Indonesia) to begin later this year.

Er. what is astaxathin anyway?

Wikiepedia advises:

Source Astaxanthin concentration (ppm)


~ 5


~ 60


~ 120
Arctic shrimp (P borealis) ~ 1,200
Phaffia yeast ~ 10,000

Haematococcus pluvialis

~ 40,000

“Currently, the primary natural source for astaxanthin is the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis. This is the form used in the overwhelming majority of human nutritional supplements, and it is the form on which all human clinical trials have been done. These human clinical trials have shown benefits in the areas of anti-inflammatory, cardiovascular health, eye and brain health, skin improvement and the protection of skin from UV damage.”

More about astaxanthin and others in the market

Let’s be frank, It’s a lucrative market, but a small one.

Earlier this year, natural algae astaxanthin manufacturers Fuji Chemical Industry Co, Algatechnologies Ltd, and Cyanotech Corporation announced that they had form the “Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association,” a trade organization dedicated to educating the public and dietary supplement industry about the health benefits of Natural Astaxanthin and the major differences between sources. The association was formed in response to the petrochemical derived synthetic astaxanthin, which is now being marketed.

Back in 2012, Solix BioSystems’ said that its Lumian Algae Growth System – then ranging from 260 to 58,000 liters – would be converted into both low-value products such as biodiesel, green diesel, bio jet-fuels but also high-quality natural Polyunsaturated Fatty Acids, including Omega 3, Beta-Carotene and the high-value pigment Astaxanthin. Solids meanwhile are used in aquaculture, food and animal feed ingredients due to their high protein and carbohydrate content.

Back in 2011, Evodos announced that it would supply algae harvesting machines for Algae2Omega’s production facilities in Fort Lauderdale.  Algae2Omega is planning to produce and sell algae derived products using proprietary methods.  Their products included at the time high-value nutraceuticals, including Astaxanthin, for human and animal nutrition, Omega 3 oil, and species specific feeds for the livestock and aquatic farming industries.

What’s been up in Japan lately, vis-a-vis algae?

Last week, we learned that Izuzu Motors has teamed with Euglena Co. to develop a new kind of drop-in fuels from algae, with the technology expected to be on the market by 2018. Euglena has already been developing jet fuel from algae with ANA Airlines.

Back in January, IHI NeoG Algae said it has cut the price of algae production by half to $4.8 per liter in part thanks to improvements in breeding. Through breed improvement and automation, the company is working to bring the production cost down to 96 cents per liter. The algae species was developed by Gene & Gene Technology and is being grown in IHI’s pond.

In November 2012, IHI opened its algae biofuels pilot plant in Yokohama, and said that it intends to reach commercial scale by 2020, after having been in development on the project since 2010. The company said that current production costs are projected at $47.55 per gallon ($12.58 per liter), but that the company hopes to bring that figure down by a factor of ten, through a collaboration with a research team associated with Kobe University. In addition to fuels, the company expects to sell cattle feed and fertilizers.

Back in 2010, In Japan, 41 Japanese companies including Toyota Motor’s Hitachi R&D unit, Denso, Nippon Oil, Idemitsu Kosan and Kikkoman have joined a study led by Tsukuba University into the production of fuel, cosmetics, chemicals and food from microalgae. According to a report in BusinessWeek, Japan abandoned an R&D effort into algal-based fuels in the 1990s after oil prices collapsed, but in recent years Denso has participated in a Keio University research project exploring pseudochoricystis algae,  while a unit of Mitsubishi has joined a UCLA-led effort to produce ethanol from microalgae.

Also in 2010, In Japan, Nippon Oil and Hitachi Plant Technologies announced that they are collaborating on the development of a radical new technology to grow and harvest renewable oils from Euglena, pond-dwelling single-celled organisms, of the kingdown Excavata, that have both hetrotrophic abilities to consume foods as well as photosynthesize energy using chloroplasts. The joint venture has developed a culturing system to produce Euglana at higher productivity rates than corn or sugarcane, and the project leaders say that their current goal is to reduce production costs below $3.00 per gallon ($0.80 per liter), and aims to convert the oils to renewable jet fuel. The venture partners say that they expect to produce Euglena biofuel by 2015.

Reaction from the Partners

“As we investigated technology partners for algae production in Japan, Heliae offered a truly complete package,” said Yukihiro Matsuzaka, President of Sincere Corporation. “From their algae technology platform, their experience at scale, and their extensive traction in multiple industries, Heliae is clearly a world-class player and we look forward to building upon this joint venture with them and bringing algae production to Japan.”

“Local support for the project has been significant and we’re proud that the new algae production facility will bring significant community development for the Saga City area through job creation and tax revenue,” said Dan Simon, President and CEO of Heliae. “We choose our partners carefully, and the Sincere Corporation has a complimentary culture combined with a long track record of success in Japan. This is just the beginning of what we believe will become a long-term partnership to deliver high quality algae products to multiple markets throughout the country. We are honored to have been chosen by Sincere and excited about the potential. Now the real work begins.”

More about Sincere, here.

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