DSM enters algae-based chems

I received news today about DSM’s acquisition of Martek Biosciences for $1.09bn and the words algae and industrial biotechnology mentioned in the press release definitely rang several bells in one section of my brain (where all things green and chemistry info are located).

There is also one time a few months ago that I received a phone call from a Martek official inquiring about algae developments in the chemical sector. With this acquisition news, it now all make sense to me and I’m thinking Solazyme might soon face a big competitor in the algae-based chems field especially specialty applications.

Now, let’s talk about Martek and its microalgae-derived product portfolio.

I first encountered the company back in 2001 when I was covering the wonderful world of oils and fats, and the polyunsaturated fatty acid (PUFA) market especially omega fatty acids DHA and ARA in infant formula and nutritional supplements was somewhat still beginning its commercialization stage. DSM was already supplying Martek arachidonic acid back then for its nutritional oils.

If you read my article, Martek’s revenues during Q2 2001 was around $4m compared to this year’s $450m fiscal net sales (ended Oct. 31). Quite a leap in less than 10 years.

Since then, the company spread its microalgae product applications from infant formula and dietary supplements to the food and beverage markets (even pet foods). Scanning the green blog’s excellent archives, Martek started venturing in the industrial applications R&D last year with joint collaboration with BP on microbial oil-based biodiesel.

The multi-year R&D venture is expected to establish proof of concept for large-scale, cost effective microbial-based biodiesel using fermentation process. BP is contributing up to $10m in the first phase of collaboration. The companies will use sugars from biomass as feedstock and transforming the sugars into lipids (via fermentation), which are then converted into fuel molecules either through chemical or thermocatalytic processes.

More about DSM’s strategy on Martek’s microalgae technology in industrial applications will be posted soon after my interview with DSM this week. A DSM spokesperson did say that algae is one of the missing pieces in their industrial biotechnology development portfolio

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