The world's largest Haematococcus farm built in China

[China] The geological stone forest of Shilin is a set of limestone formations located in Shilin’s Yi Autonomous County, approximately 90 km (56 mi) away from the provincial capital city Kunming, Yunnan Province, People’s Republic of China. Since 2007, one of the most notable stone forest site, the Naigu stone forest, has been listed as the UNESCO World Heritage Site. Minutes away from the World Heritage site, there is an astonishing man-made structure where thousand of kilometers of glass tubes are put together for the cultivation of microalgae. This structure is known as the photobioreactor.

Gingko Asta site office and production plant. The tubular photobioreactor is assembled together with components such as glasstubes, rubber rings, and racks. The total length of the glasstube in the farm is more than 1,000 km.
Gingko Asta site office and production plant. The tubular photobioreactor is assembled together with components such as glasstubes, rubber rings, and racks. The total length of the glasstube in the farm is more than 1,000 km.

Last month, Algae World News paid a visit to this microalgae production plant and met with the company’s founding team members. Upon our arrival in the morning of 16th of June 2015, we were received by 4 warm-hearted young men, who are the founders of the company. We are glad that the team eventually agreed to share their experience with Algae World News’ readers.

The successful establishment of such mega-structure was not easy. We were impressed that the pilot plant and the 1,000 km commercial scale glass-made tubular photobioreactor was actually constructed without any help from the algae industry experts or algae research institution.

After many years of research in the algae and natural product industries, Eric Pan, the founder (now the technical director) of Yunnan GinkoAsta Biotech Co., Ltd., together with 2 of his ex-classmates, Fei Yang and Wei Xiang, demonstrated a pilot plant which produces a type of microalgae known as Haematococcus pluvialis, in year 2009. This was also one of the very first commercial prototype of H. pluvialis cultivation system demonstrated in China.

“We started everything from scratch. I read hundreds of articles related to algae cultivation and production systems. We build our own lab, grow and acclimatize the algae, look for glass fabrication factory, construct the system, and secure investors. ” Eric recalled.

In 2013, the team completed the first phase of the commercial H. pluvialis production plant. The 25 acre astaxanthin production facility features sealed glass tubes, which ensures a clean and contaminant-free environment for the growth of H. pluvialis.

Currently, operated by 80 employees, the facility is capable of producing 3 tons of pure astaxanthin per year and it is available for immediate shipment world-wide.

“We are doubling the production by 2016. We believe that currently our company’s astaxanthin production contributes 25% of the global astaxanthin market.” Fei Yang stated.

Fei Yang is the R&D manager of the company.

Photo of Fei Yang and Tian taken in the Haematococcus farm.
Photo of Fei Yang and Tian taken in the Haematococcus farm.

“We will be having our own on-site super-critical carbon dioxide extraction facility by next year. At the moment, we are sending the raw biomass product to Japan and Beijing for astaxanthin extraction and purification.” Fei Yang further elaborated.

“Currently, Beijing Gingko Group (BGG), is one of the largest investor of our company. BGG is also the marketing arm of our company’s Haematococcus products such as astaxanthin. The product name “AstaZine” was registered and approved by the China’s Ministry of Health in year 2012 and it is now sold throughout the country as a health supplement.” Eric added.

BGG is one of the leading natural ingredients company in China which offer various kinds of natural ingredients to the marketplace.

In 2013, BGG initially invested in the purchase of over 25 acres of the most fertile and climatically suitable land in Shilin, and then invested in the photobioreactor technology to grow the microalgae for the production of natural astaxanthin.

Astaxanthin is in short supply around the world, and BGG is now one of the leading producer in the Asian market.

According to algachina.com, in March 2013, Yunnan GinkoAsta Biotech Co., Ltd raised $ 10,000,000 as the initial construction capital, and then another $ 20,000,000 for further expansion in August of the same year.

“The market price of pure astaxanthin fluctuates around $12,000.00 per kilogram. The price is largely depending on its purity and its ratio to the total carotenoids.” said Eric.

This photo shows the microscopic structure of Haematococcus pluvialis at its red cyst stage. Red pigment astaxanthin accumulates in the cells under stress condition as protective agent.
This photo shows the microscopic structure of Haematococcus pluvialis at its red cyst stage. Red pigment astaxanthin accumulates in the cells under stress condition as protective agent.

“We are also a member of NAXA (Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association). We ensure our product quality meets the NAXA’s expectation.” Eric explained.

In January 2014, world leading natural astaxanthin manufacturers Fuji Chemical Industry Co Ltd. (AstaReal®), Algatechnologies Ltd. (AstaPure®), and Cyanotech Corporation (BioAstin®, Nasdaq Capital Market: CYAN), announced the formation of “Natural Algae Astaxanthin Association” (NAXA), a trade organization dedicated to educating the public and dietary supplement industry about the health benefits of natural astaxanthin and the major differences among other sources.

Wei Xiang, the director of administration department explained the market advantage of their company. The production facility is situated 1,800 meters above sea level. During the summer, the highest temperature recorded was 26 degree Celsius (which last for only a few days), and the average temperature throughout the year is 17 degree Celsius with abundant of sunlight. This is a perfect condition for the cultivation of H. pluvialis.

The red cyst stage of the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis was induced by putting under stress condition. In these glass tubes, the H. pluvialis are exposed to high light intensity for the accumulation of astaxanthin, a type red pigment which protects the algae from photo-oxidative damage.
The red cyst stage of the microalgae Haematococcus pluvialis was induced by putting under stress condition. In these glass tubes, the H. pluvialis are exposed to high light intensity for the accumulation of astaxanthin, a type red pigment which protects the algae from photo-oxidative damage.

“Our cultivation system requires only fine adjustment to cool down or heat up the system according to seasonal change. That save us significant amount of money for the production.” Wei Xiang said.

“We spent years to select a strain that grows fast enough and accumulates high amount of astaxanthin. Our selected H. pluvialis strain requires only 6 days of cultivation in its green motile stage. The culture is then put under stress for 9-14 days for the synthesis and accumulation of astaxanthin. Having a productive strain is the key of a successful and profitable microalgae cultivation plant.” Wei Xiang explained.

The astaxanthin content of the selected strain of H. pluvialis reaches 7%. On average, H. pluvialis accumulates up to 5% of astaxanthin only. Achieving high astaxanthin concentration lowers the cost for the extraction and purification.

“Together with the new super-critical CO2 extraction facility, we will be handling every step from upstream farming, harvesting, and extraction to downstream product development, marketing and branding. This is like an one-stop service station for astaxanthin production and we believe that this is our unique selling point.” Wei Xiang said.

At the end of the meeting, the team members told us the future plan of the company.

“We are currently collaborating with research institutions and we are exploring the commercial viability of other valuable microalgae species. The market of astaxanthin may reach saturation in 5-10 years time. Competitors are rising, technologies are becoming easily accessible, and we are always looking into solutions in longer run. Being innovative in terms of product development is the key to business sustainability.” Eric said.

Algae World News would like to thank the founding team members of Yunnan GinkoAsta Biotech Co., Ltd. for their warm hospitality during the stay in Shilin.

 

Exclusively reported by Algae World News

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