China's algae crisis offers feedstock for U.S. plastics firm

[USA, China] Lake Taihu, the third largest freshwater body in China, once was pure and beautiful and one of my fondest childhood memories. But like many things in China, it has fallen victim of GDP-focused development and now is devastated by pollution.

In the past couple of decades, explosive industrialization and urbanization have turned Taihu’s waters a freakish green with rampant algae blooms.

The crisis first made headlines in 2007 when millions of local residents found their tap water was like green Jello and were forced to find alternative drinking water. The government has since pumped billions of yuan into cleanup projects, but the effect has been very limited.

Local residents who resent these notorious algae didn’t know, however, these green matters could be a valuable feedstock for the polymer industry.

Thanks to the discovery of an American company, Taihu algea are being processed into dry powder and shipped to the United States to make algae-based plastics.

Wuxi-based DLH (Delinhai) Tech Co. Ltd. said it has received an order from a U.S. customer to deliver 1,400 metric tons of algae powder in batches through the end of next year.
Wuxi-based DLH (Delinhai) Tech Co. Ltd. said it has received an order from a U.S. customer to deliver 1,400 metric tons of algae powder in batches through the end of next year.

Hu Hangyu, who is in charge of the company, said in a phone interview that he was not at liberty to disclose the customer’s name.

The customer first approached DLH in 2013, according to DLH. The Wuxi-based company spent months on research to reduce moisture and in 2014 reached the customer’s requirement of less than 10 percent moisture content. It sent a test sample of 5 metric tons of powder to the customer in January.
The customer first approached DLH in 2013, according to DLH. The Wuxi-based company spent months on research to reduce moisture and in 2014 reached the customer’s requirement of less than 10 percent moisture content. It sent a test sample of 5 metric tons of powder to the customer in January.

 

DLH said the customer was very satisfied and placed the 1,400-ton order.

The United States has had its own algae blooms, but DLH said the Chinese waters are rich in nitrogen and phosphorus, which yield algae with high protein content (more than 35 percent).

DLH’s production line currently can produce 8 tons of powder per day, using 50 tons of algae collected from the lake, the company told Chinese media. It also said it would be able to consume all of the algae from Taihu if it were to expand to five lines.

DLH told local media that it’s selling the powder at $500 per ton with a thin profit margin. Nevertheless, it’s a higher value-added application than traditional uses like compost and biogas power generation.

Exporting is more profitable than selling in China, Hu told Plastics News, adding that he doesn’t know any company in China that converts algae into plastics.
Exporting is more profitable than selling in China, Hu told Plastics News, adding that he doesn’t know any company in China that converts algae into plastics.

Hu said he’s not considering bringing on algae-to-polymer technology and producing plastics locally.

“We are not a plastics producer. We specialize in algae collection and treatment and would not consider entering a new industry,” he said on the phone.

“The customer has their own proprietary technology. All we do is supply raw materials as specified by the customer,” he emphasized.

DLH has expanded its treatment area beyond Taihu to other regions in China.

 

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