As the world’s population increases, and our demand for specific nutritional profiles expands, we face a growing set of problems in feeding the human population. Today, the UN estimates that nearly one billion people are regularly undernourished, and as standards of living increase around the globe, the drive for protein and richer foods will also increase. Thus, there is a global need for sustainable, scalable, renewable sources of vital nutritional components (especially protein and essential fats). Enabling sustainable food security is therefore not just about providing sufficient calories, but also about providing the protein, essential fats, and other nutrients required for good health.
Algae has the potential to fill this increasing need for sustainable, intensively farmed nutrition around the world, but despite many decades of research there are few commercial scale farms worldwide. Growing, harvesting, and extraction of nutritional products at small scale is easy, but very few firms have accomplished significant scale of all unit operations. The industry has focused on “scaling up” for a number of years, with very few accomplishing it. Current BETO FOAs limit proposals to 60,000L or smaller; only a handful of sites in the U.S. are larger than 10 acres (of cultivated area or equivalent). There are still significant challenges to driving down costs of production, and there is much work to do around sustainability before algae, as a crop, can live up to its promise. In order to achieve stable production at scale, the industry must focus on developing algae as a crop and implementing agricultural practices, methodologies and mindsets.
Qualitas Health is a privately-held company developing high-value vegetarian food supplements and nutritional ingredients, such as Omega-3 oils and protein, from algae. Qualitas uses sunlight, renewable wind energy, non-arable land, non-potable salt water and low-energy processes to farm Nannochloropsis in West Texas. Through our production of renewable, algae-derived nutritional products and ingredients, we aim to realize the inherent potential of algae as an essential source of food and nutrition through scalable and sustainable production. Qualitas’s first products are creating a new category of Omega-3s – Almega® – and the story of our brands speaks to the challenges, opportunities, and importance of developing unit ops at scale to put algae on the map as the crop of the 21st century.
Dr. Rebecca White is the Vice President of Operations for Qualitas Health, Inc., a Texas-based nutrition and supplements company with headquarters in Houston, Texas. Dr. White manages all production operations as well as the company’s applied R&D program, and has ultimate responsibility for on spec production from several facilities. Additionally, she oversees all production staff, leads the development of operational know-how at commercial scale, and incorporates technical feedback into primary technology development. Dr. White has almost 10 years’ experience in the algae industry, having worked previously at Sapphire Energy, Inc. as the Director of Cultivation. At Sapphire, her work on cultivation and harvesting of algae at scale successfully demonstrated the commercial viability of using algae to produce fuels and other high-value products. Dr. White also handled the administrative management roles for the site and achieved impressive gains in personnel productivity, reduction of safety incidents, and improved environmental performance. Her specialties include the translation and development of traditional agriculture principles to the domestication of algae as a crop, the establishment of field testing and process monitoring facilities and protocols, and public/educational outreach on algae in general. Dr. White received her Ph.D. in Microbiology from Texas A&M University, where she was an NSF Graduate Research Fellow.