We are in 2017, near the beautiful Galician Costa da Morte, the Coast of Death. Meet Jacobo Bouzada Rodríquez, a chemical engineer freshly graduated from the University of Vigo. Having worked on various marine-related research projects, including for fish processing plants, Jacobo wanted to develop a high-value product from a natural resource that is abundantly present in the area: algae.
In particular, Jacobo has laid his eye on a specific kind of micro-algae, called Crypthecodinium cohnii, after he discovered that the oil from this seaweed was particularly high in omega-3. The fatty acid, known for its health benefits, is widely used as a supplement in the food and nutraceutical industry. His role, Jacobo reckoned, could be to extract, refine and sell this potent, highly unsaturated omega-3 oil to exactly those companies.
The initiative was quickly welcomed by the Costa da Morte FLAG, the local fisheries action group supported by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund. They saw it as an opportunity to bring not just new life but also diversity to their coastal economy, which relies heavily on fisheries and the canning industry.
With help from the FLAG, Jacobo found a production site in the industrial area of Bértoa (Carballo), close to the supply of the micro-algae, and he set up a small company Carbiotech, employing two people.
The FLAG contributed with a grant of 200 000 euro, or 40% of the project costs. Jacobo: “Thanks to the FLAG, we were able to start a company, which we had already been developing for years, and to finance the facilities and equipment for our plant.”
But the FLAG did more than just chipping in for the investment. They also introduced him to local fishers and shellfish gatherers who could help identify and collect the micro-algae which he would afterwards cultivate in closed-circuit bioreactors.
To start with, the oil would be sold directly to the pharmaceutical industry for omega-3 capsules and other health supplements. As the project set off, Carbiotech already signed a contract with a multinational for its entire production in the initial years: 1000 litres of oil for year 1, 4000 litres of oil for year 2.
Fast forward to 2021. Carbiotech is still alive and kicking, even after the FLAG project finished in August 2019. Nevertheless, Jacobo and his small team had a bumpy ride and needed to adapt to overcome a number of setbacks. In a few years’ time, the market had shifted to a different kind of algae, Schizochytrium, and so his production had to follow. Together with the University of Vigo they started new research in order to adapt the cultivation. But then COVID-19 showed its ugly face, locking down the research technicians from the university. Carbiotech didn’t surrender, and began to work in its own facilities to carry out the necessary research themselves.
Meanwhile, the cultivation of the new micro-algae is well underway. The immediate priority now is to improve the productivity so they can produce at a larger scale, which will increase the profitability of the company.
The company continues to look out for funding to increase and research the production of microalgae in bioreactors and expand its market lines. At a later stage, Carbiotech plans to develop and market this type of product itself.
Jacobo “This project has been an adventure: We’ve had to deal with technical uncertainty, lack of means and the crisis derived from COVID-19. But we managed to continue working, creating two jobs, which we have been able to maintain despite the pandemic. We consider this company a success. Our focus is now on improving productivity, based on research, in order to make this an example of a successful business in our local area, and that can be replicated in other territories.”
Did you like this story?
Then also check out the March edition of Euronews Ocean episode on health
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Website: Costa da Morte FLAG
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