Astaxanthin production with Haematococcus pluvialis

The red pigment astaxanthin is produced with the algae Haematococcus pluvialis. Astaxanthin is used as a supplement in aquaculture in fish- and shrimp-feed in order to enhance the pink color of shrimp, salmon and trout meat. Astaxanthin belongs to the carotenoids and its chemical structure is similar to beta-carotene. Numerous scientific publications attest astaxanthin with a higher antioxidative potential than vitamin E.

It has also beneficial properties for both the cardiovascular system and human eye function. Hence astaxanthin, in the form of capsules, is taken as a dietary supplement, mostly in Japan and the USA, but also increasingly in Europe.

A further application of astaxanthin is as a red pigment by the cosmetics industry. Fraunhofer IGB can produce astaxanthin economically in photobioreactors specifically designed for mass cultivation of algae. The production process is scalable and can be dimensioned according to customer-specific applications.

Biomass production in Flat Panel Airlift (FPA) reactors

First cultivation step: Haematococcus pluvialis is produced in FPA reactors.
First cultivation step: Haematococcus pluvialis is produced in FPA reactors.
Flat-panel airlift (FPA) reactor with static mixers for defined transport of algae to the light. The reactors are made of deep-drawn PVC film.
Second cultivation step: Production of astaxanthin.

We provide the scientific know-how to produce large quantities of Haematococcus algae biomass with a high astaxanthin content.


Scale-up in FPA reactors

The flat-panel airlift (FPA) reactor enables us to produce microalgae or their highly valuable products in a cost effective economic way. The scale-up step to a pilot plant consists of linking of several reactor modules (with a volume of 33 liters each) and joint operation in a greenhouse. In a first cultivation step Haematococcus pluvialis is produced semicontinously in FPA-reactors. In a second batch cultivation step under high light intensities astaxanthin is produced. In the pilot plant up to 40 reactor modules are jointly operated for production of algal products in the range of several kilograms.


High biomass concentrations

In autumn 2002, biomass growth rates of up to 0.25 g TS l-1 d-1 at cell concentrations of up to 2.5 g TS l-1 were achieved in the newly developed FPA reactor on the Stuttgart site. These are the highest values ever achieved for Haematococcus pluvialis due to the good light distribution in the photobioreactor. The formation of astaxanthin is induced by high light intensities (direct sun), nutrient deficiency or inductors such as acetate and table salt. If these factors are taken into account in the batch process, the cell weight increases by a further factor of three to four, while the intracellular astaxanthin content reaches up to five percent of the dry cell weight.

Under outdoor conditions, biomass concentrations of Haematococcus pluvialis of up to 10 g TS l-1 were achieved in the FPA reactor. This high cell density is an important prerequisite for industrial astaxanthin production.