With photoperiod support they grow microalgae in the Elqui Valley

Not only grapes and other agricultural crops live the Elqui Valley. Under its crisp sky and abundant radiation, Alimtec develops an unthinkable production: freshwater microalgae. With the support of Corfo, LED light systems are now being tested to reduce the seasonality of a crop whose final destination is the food supplement industry (Aquaculture World)

“Haematococcus pluvialis”. This is called the freshwater microalgae that breeds in the Elqui Valley, in the ponds of the company Alimtec. It’s not a recent thing; it is a business that started in 2008, with the aim at that time of supplying the salmon industry, about 1,500 km south of the Coquimbo region.
The “climate conditions” led to the choice of this location so far from the destination market, according to Dino Saltarini, Alimtec’s operations manager, which “in addition to an excellent quality of the water used in the process, have determined the success of the production.” The haematococcus pluvialis microalgae is the natural source of carotenoid “Astaxanthin”, which , among other uses, is the pigment responsible for the orange color of salmon. That is why salmon farming was the initial focus of Alimtec, until “in 2010, and due to the health crisis of the salmon industry, Alimtec S.A. began to look for new markets, finding a very interesting niche in the nutritional supplement industry for human consumption, a market to which it has continued to target 100% to this day,” says Dino Saltarini.
Cloud market projections caused interest in Alimtec to cross borders, and so stands out by its executive: “In 2014, Alimtec S.A. becomes part of E.I.D. Parry (India), who have invested more than $2 million in the last 4 million in the last 4 million doubling the company’s initial production capacity in Chile.”
According to Dino Saltarini, “the complexities in production have caused few players in the Haematococcus pluvialis microalgae farming industry. Alimtec has developed a growing system that allows to obtain a product of excellent quality and with low production costs, which in addition to a captive and developing market has helped it to maintain and grow over time”.
LED lights for microalgae
Despite the favorable climate of the Elqui Valley for this crop, seasonality prevents maintaining constant levels in production, which registers considerable declines in the autumn-winter season. To alleviate this effect, Alimtec sought the support of the AquaPacífico Aquaculture Innovation Center, from where the project was generated for the development of an LED lighting system, with the collaboration of the photoperiod company Luxmeter Energy S.A.
Alimtec’s operations manager explains that “with the realization of the project to use LED lights in the intermediate stages of cultivation, we seek to reduce the seasonal effect of the natural photoperiod on the crop, to stabilize the production during the different times of the year”, stating that “so far, positive effects have been verified in terms of the objectives set, which must be validated in the second stage, currently under development”. “It is important to note that the LED lighting system has been developed specifically for the cultivation of microalgae, according to the technology used by Alimtec, which has involved technological challenges that are not minor,” says Dino Saltarini.
Carolina Oliú, project manager at AquaPacífico, highlights the scientific basis underpinning the developed prototype, where according to recent studies “the incorporation of artificial light technologies is a feasible option for the cultivation of microalgae; particularly when applied to accelerate biomass production and accumulation of specific biochemical components. Therefore, the use of different photoperiod cycles would have a positive impact on the final productivity of microalgae cysts and astaxanthin.”
Associative model in aquaculture
Collaboration between companies and technology centers is one of the elements to highlight, according to Axel Klimpel, ceo of AquaPacific, who emphasizes that “the work model that we are implementing in this project is key to our strategy of development of aquaculture in the north centre and, why not, the country. The active participation of the private sector, in this case a productive company and one of products and services for aquaculture, is essential to accelerate innovation and technological development”.
Klimpel adds that “the collaborative model allows to incorporate very different capabilities and that strengthen the project, reducing risks and costs. Finally, both companies benefit from working together, as Alimtec can optimize their production, improving the profitability of their business; whereas, for Luxmeter, it is the opportunity to open your company to new markets, creating products and incorporating not-so-traditional customers.”
Claudio Steiner, general manager of Luxmeter Energy, confirms that this experience has been an opportunity for the Puerto Rican company. “Our premise is to open up markets and we are convinced that our technology can be of great help for the cultivation of microalgae, as well as for other aquaculture crops in the north of the country,” he explains. He argues that the main challenge to carry out this project was the 1,500 km that separate them from the Coquimbo Region, a distance that, he says, could be overcome with the support of AquaPacífico, “which has technical staff of excellence”. For the near future, he anticipates that they will have a technical agent in the area, in addition to continuing to collaborate with AquaPacífico, “with whom we signed a framework cooperation agreement”.


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