As climate change seeps into all aspects of our food chain, including our oceans, it is imperative to look to alternative sources of nutrition to meet the needs of our population. An example is the use of seaweed in omega-3 supplements instead of fish oil or krill, as this prevents overfishing and goes straight to the source of nutrition (fish get their omega-3s by what they eat!).
I recently spoke with Corinna Bellizzi, head of marketing and sales at biotech company VAXA, a global food technology company about its new science-based approach to the sustainable and environmentally friendly production of microalgae and its recent product line launch in this vein – Örlö Nutrition.
Corinna described to me how the company’s circular, carbon-negative process is the next frontier in food production: “When earth nutrition became unsustainable, technology allowed us to move from hunter-gatherer to that of farmers. Vaxa’s technology creates a similar technological leap with ocean-based nutrition. It is the first commercial facility in the world that integrates geothermal energy production with algae cultivation (Energy-to-Food).
For more on Vaxa and my interview with Corinna, please read an edited excerpt from our discussion below.
Christopher Marquis: Tell me a bit about the setup in Iceland – how does it work, what do you grow, what technology do you use?
Corinna Bellizzi: We have developed a circular economy platform to harness the nutritional potential of microalgae without seasonal disruption. Our production facility in Iceland is a controlled inland aquaculture facility. This means we are able to provide an excellent source of omega-3s and protein for fish and humans year-round without seasonal inconsistencies or worries about failing supplies due to environmental stresses like weather. worsening storms and warming oceans.
Our platform combines advanced biotechnology and machine learning to create the first bio-secure, controlled, optimized and scalable interior. photosynthetic microalgae production facility in the world. Our technology uses the clean energy of a geothermal power plant and its waste streams (hot/cold water, geothermal CO2) to produce optimized microalgae with exceptional nutritional value including proteins with a complete profile of essential amino acids, omega-3s, vitamins and minerals that support the immune system.
Our process also has a negative carbon footprint, using 99% less land and water resources than those used in conventional microalgae production. Vaxa’s technology reduces production costs by approximately 80%, while increasing yields tenfold. It creates a catalyst for the aquaculture and food industries to widely adopt omega-3s and sustainable algae-based proteins. VAXA means Grow in Icelandic.
Marquis: Can you explain a bit more how your technology differs from others?
Bellizzi: When terrestrial nutrition became unsustainable, technology allowed us to transition from hunter-gatherers to farmers. Vaxa’s technology creates a similar technological leap with ocean-based nutrition. It is the first commercial facility in the world that integrates geothermal energy production with algae cultivation (Energy-to-Food). We use clean energy and pristine Icelandic water to grow our algae while providing the exact balance of natural fertilizers and light that microalgae need to thrive. By optimizing their growth conditions through the power of artificial intelligence (AI), they grow exponentially, doubling their mass every two days while consuming CO2, and creating oxygen as a positive by-product. Since we use a closed system (not an open pond) and control the growing conditions, we don’t have to worry about the potential for contamination of our algae by other unwanted algae strains, amoebas or other pests that would eat our algae – so we don’t need to use pesticides or herbicides. Seasonality concerns are erased. This means that in the end, the algae we grow have a constant and optimal nutritional value. As a result, our seaweed has higher levels of omega-3s and other phytonutrients (eg essential amino acids, bioavailable iron and vitamin B12) which can create an abundance of nutritious products.
Additionally, by producing a solution that does not depend on open pond culture systems or our ocean ecosystems, omega-3 supply issues due to warming waters and increased ocean acidification are bypassed. Given the carbon negative nature of our technology, we offer a solution that can both solve omega-3 and protein supply issues and contribute to global cooling.
Marquis: Why algae? Why vertical farming? Why supplements?
Bellizzi: Fish obtain the highly bioactive omega-3s EPA and DHA from the algae they consume, bioaccumulating these important fats, with environmental toxins, as we move up the food chain. One can cut out the “middle fish” and go straight to algae for these powerful nutrients without disturbing sensitive ecosystems. Omega-3s derived from photosynthetic algae contain polar lipids and do not create that typical fishy aftertaste.
Raising algae vertically in our aquaculture facility allows us to control the conditions under which the algae are grown, while minimizing water consumption and surface footprint. We minimally process and extract algae using only water and organic alcohol, resulting in a superior product that retains its essential nutrients and preserves omegas in their highly bioavailable polar lipid form. This ensures superior absorption to fish or seaweed oils in their triglyceride or ethyl ester forms, and given the presence of polar lipids, including phospholipids and glycolipids, even higher absorption than oil of krill.
Omega-3 supplementation is a quick and easy way to make sure you’re getting enough EPA and DHA in your daily diet. To get enough of these essential fats, you can eat fish 2-3 times a week, or you can take one gram (2 small capsules) of Örlö Omega-3 or prenatal DHA each day. By taking a supplement, you benefit from omegas without worrying about environmental toxins and without damaging sensitive ecosystems.
Marquis: Why has ocean sustainability become such a hot topic?
Bellizzi: As the ocean continues to absorb more atmospheric carbon, its acidity levels increase. With increasing acidity, its vital conditions change. Uncontrollable algal blooms, resulting from both changing acidity, agricultural land and sewage runoff, kill entire schools of fish that later wash up on shore. With the increase in acidity, some species of molluscs even find it more difficult to create the shells that protect them in the larval stage. Coral reefs are dying. These realities are well documented and will continue with rising ocean temperatures and acidity levels. We must change our consumption habits, aware of our current reality because it will take time for our oceans to rebalance their ecosystems.
Marquis: What other sustainability measures does the company take?
Bellizzi: The packaging we worked on is high quality reusable Miron Violetglass, which both preserves natural products better than other packaging and is recyclable. Since the glass bottle is designed to be refilled, we use less material overall. Refill pouches are made from post-consumer recycled plastics that retain recyclability for third-life potential. Our shipping boxes and envelopes are made from post-consumer recycled paper and are printed with seaweed-based inks. These inks reduce our reliance on petrochemicals and are much more environmentally friendly. These inks are a cradle to cradle solution, as seaweed ink is made from a waste stream of seaweed products. We even print our organic cotton t-shirts, which are cut, sewn and printed in California with seaweed-based inks. We preferably ship via ground logistics from our fulfillment center in Texas, reducing the carbon cost of logistics to reach our customers. Additionally, the logistics of every purchase are carbon offset, ensuring our impact remains carbon negative. This demonstrates our commitment to pro-planet health.
A unique set of work aligned with our mission is a podcast we introduced. Podcasting offers us a long-lasting educational avenue to have essential conversations to support one’s health through great nutrition without compromising the health of the planet. For example, we’ve already had the incredible opportunity to feature Dr. William Li and his New York Times bestseller, Eat to conquer disease, the new science of how your body can heal itself. Hosting conversations with people like Dr Li, as well as climate scientists like the lead author of the IPCC report, Nobel Laureate Professor William Moomaw, helps us drive important conversations forward while fueling the knowledge base. of our customers. The collaborations come to light and we can reach consumers who have little time to read but enjoy listening to a podcast or watching an interview on YouTube with a thought leader they respect. We are convinced that podcasts democratize access to knowledge and can influence real and lasting changes in our habits and our health.
With Örlö, our goal is to prove to the world that creating a regenerative brand, with circular economic principles at its core, is possible. We can create solutions that are both pro-health and pro-planet, and generate healthy profits to maintain the long-term health of a business. We expect the brand’s impact to be far-reaching, beyond our own success, as we inspire others to create equally responsible products and brands. This is the new wave of brand building. We hope to make this the norm.