Solazyme Roquette JV to boost U.S. manufacturing capacity

Solazyme Roquette JV to boost U.S. manufacturing capacity

Solazyme Roquette Nutritionals is planning an algae ingredients factory in the U.S. to go with plants now under construction in France.  The joint venture plans to bring its first ingredient to market, a whole algal flour that can replace fat in food formulations, in January.

Solazyme Roquette Nutritionals, a joint venture pairing the respective algae and grain processing leaders, plans to build a major manufacturing facility in the United States to go with factories under construction in France, president Jodie Morgan recently told Functional Ingredients.

Solazyme Roquette has announced plans to expand its phase I manufacturing facility, sited at an existing Roquette plant in Lestrem, France, to an eventual capacity of 5,000 metric tons by the end of 2012. The previously announced first phase has a 300-ton capacity and is on target to be finished by the end of 2011. Morgan, who was named president and general manager in June, said the phase III plant in the U.S. will have a capacity in excess of 5,000 tons.

It’s all part of the plan to bring the joint venture’s first ingredient—called Whole Algalin Flour—to market by January. The ‘flour’ is a processed, powdered form of a proprietary algae strain cultured via fermentation. It has a 50 percent lipids content and also contains fiber and protein, enabling formulators in a wide variety of food categories to add nutrition and cut fat content while still maintaining a full-fat mouthfeel.

“We like to look at the ingredient as more like an egg,” Morgan said. “You can use it just like an egg.  Instead of thinking of it as just a replacement for fat, it’s really a replacement for a portion of your formulation system.”

Algae ingredients—especially those derived from whole cells as this ingredient is—sometimes suffer from off flavor notes that are difficult to deal with in many applications. Morgan said Solazyme Roquette has worked around this issue first by carefully choosing the algae species and by dialing in the growing conditions and feedstock. Then, a proprietary processing protocol yields the functional properties the company was after.

“We take the cell and we disrupt it by cracking it. When you crack the cell the oil that’s in the inside actually coats the outside of the cell,” she said. "That’s what gives the effect of making your mouth believe that there is more oil in the product than there really is.”

The result is a flexible ingredient that can be used in bars and baked goods, but has also been successfully demonstrated in an algal milk form that can be compared to soy milk.

Partners in strength

The joint venture was formed in 2010, and teams Solazyme’s expertise in algae fermentation with Roquette’s strengths in grain processing and ingredient manufacturing. Roquette is one of the biggest corn wet millers in the U.S. as well as in Europe, Morgan noted. Corn is the feedstock the company uses for the new ingredient, she said, which is why the new U.S. facility will be located near of one of Roquette’s existing production facilities. Roquette’s website lists a major production facility in Keokuk, Iowa and another in Gurnee, Ill. In addition, the joint venture recently opened an innovation center in Geneva, Ill. in the far western suburbs of Chicago.

The high-lipid flour ingredient is the first of a pair, Morgan said. By mid-2012 the company plans to launch a high-protein ingredient with a much lower fat content. The fermentation technology allows the company to shift gears on the fly.

“The really great thing about it is that you can in fact set up just one manufacturing operation and although you’d have to change the way that you operate you don’t have to add in additional capital which makes it much more efficient for us when we look at extending the product line,” Morgan said.

Still, setting up the fermentation tanks in the first place isn’t cheap. The fact that Solazyme Roquette plans such rapid expansion of capacity even before the first sales roll in says a lot about the potential of the ingredient, which currently has self-affirmed GRAS status with a plan to seek an FDA no objection letter in 2012.

“If you look at the overall potential for the product, it’s certainly in the multiple hundreds of millions [of dollars],” Morgan said.

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