Algae from ethanol plant shows promise as poultry feed

By Kris Bevill | October 18, 2011

An algae strain grown by BioProcess Algae LLC at Green Plains Renewable Energy Inc.’s 65 MMgy ethanol plant in Shenandoah, Iowa, is one step closer to entering the poultry feed market. First-round feed trials recently conducted in conjunction with the University of Illinois, led by poultry science expert Carl Parsons, concluded that the algae feed has high energy and protein contents relative to comparable poultry feed products. The original goal of the trial was to determine the actual digestibility of the energy and protein from the algae compared to the soybean meal commonly used as poultry feed, said BioProcess Algae CEO Tim Burns. The trials showed that the algae not only tested well compared to soy meal, but also proved to have higher energy content than corn, distillers grains and 70 other common feed products, he said.

In addition to the high protein content, BioProcess Algae’s strain was also shown to be comparable to soy meal in amino acid profiles. Also, the high energy content of the algae could also be used as a more cost-effective source of Omega-3 fatty acids in poultry diets, he said. “We believe this may be one of the first times that carbon dioxide absorbed from an industrial source was used to grow and harvest algae that performed well in feed trials,” Burns said.

Approximately 160 million metric tons of poultry feed are used every year, according to Burns.

BioProcess Algae is currently operating its trademarked Grower Harvester bioreactors at a commercial scale at the Shenandoah facility and is in the process of building out additional acreage for an algae farm at the site. Burns said the company plans to have an additional 5 acres ready to use in the spring and will then begin building out another 200 to 400 acres at a site adjacent to the ethanol plant. “The nice thing is we are able to profitably scale the technology, which has us excited,” he said.

BioProcess Algae is a collaborative venture between GPRE, filtration product manufacturer Clarcor Inc., wastewater purification technology company BioProcess H20 LLC and investment group NTR plc. The bioreactors produce algae using CO2 from the ethanol plant along with waste water, waste heat, sunlight and nutrients. At a grand opening event  for the bioreactors held in April, GPRE CEO Todd Becker commented that when the BioProcess Algae project was launched three years ago, company leaders expected there would be a ready market for the algae by the time the project reached the commercial level. However, the project advanced more rapidly than expected so the company has taken on the role of developing markets for the algae as well.

Now that feed trials have proven successful, Burns said the next step is to evaluate the regulatory steps necessary to bring the product to the market. “Based on these first-round tests, we will continue the development of this and other high-quality animal feed products from our algae,” he said. “We will proceed with further testing for poultry and begin evaluating a replacement product for fishmeal.”

Parsons said this was the first time the University of Illinois tested algae as poultry feed. The University of Missouri provided independent third-party validation of the test results.