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Cultured algae oil to replace palm kernel thanks to biotechnology

By Michelle Yeomans+

03-Jun-2014
Last updated on 04-Jun-2014 at 12:34 GMT

Cultured algae oil to replace palm kernel thanks to biotechnology

In an effort to develop more sustainable products, global ‘green’ brand Ecover has opted for altered algae DNA as a natural replacement for kernel palm oil in its products.

The Belgian-headquartered company with global reach is traditionally known for its household products, but has emerged into personal care of late with hand products featuring algae that has been grown in a bioreactor and fed with sugar cane, harvested and then pressed to release the oil.

Ecover sourced the oil from Solazyme, a bioproducts company which utilizes a heterotrophic microalgae technology platform to convert low-cost sugars into tailored oils.

The process with this technology involves techniques that alter genetic coding which include 'artificial gene synthesis,' where DNA is created on computers and inserted into organisms, and other methods for changing DNA sequences and genes within organisms to alter their function.

A different way of cultivating algae...

Solazyme describes the organism that produces the oil as “an optimized strain” of single-cell algae “that have been in existence longer than we have.”

Unlike other algal oil production processes, in which algae grow in open ponds, Solazyme grows microalgae in total darkness in the same kind of fermentation vats used to produce vinegar, medicines and scores of other products.

Instead of sunlight, energy for the microalgae's growth comes from low-cost, plant-based sugars. This gives the company a completely consistent, repeatable industrial process to produce tailored oil at scale.

According to the company, the oil does not contain genetically engineered ingredients in the conventional meaning of the term, but rather that the organism producing the oil has been genetically altered.

The brand claims to have the ability to produce multiple oils in a matter of days out of one plant location using standard industrial fermentation is a “game-changer.”

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