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SBC, Mitsubishi forge tie-up in mega algae cultivation project

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KUCHING: Sarawak Biodiversity Centre (SBC) in collaboration with Mitsubishi Corporation (MC) is set to mark another milestone for Southeast Asia with the launch of one of the region’s largest outdoor algae cultivation facilities, at Sarawak research valley in the Semenggoh area near here next month.

According to a statement, the SBC-MC algae cultivation facility is an optimised outdoor photo-bio-reactor (PBR) system that maximises yield and minimises costs by growing indigenous microalgal strains adapted to Sarawak’s tropical environment, in 24m long, recyclable and economical thin plastic film, flat panel bags.

The facility is also expected to yield up to 60 tonnes per hectare per year equivalent of dried algal biomass.

The high surface area to volume ratio, optimal gas-liquid transfer, easy operation and minimal contamination risk afforded by the flat panel bags will result in an improved photosynthetic activity, high biomass productivity, and lower production cost.

According to SBC chief executive officer Dr Yeo Tiong Chia, Sarawak has an ideal environment for maximising outdoor cultivation of microalgae for the production of various commercial products, which include cosmetics, fine chemicals, pharmaceuticals and nutraceuticals, biofuels, fertilisers, food and feedstock.

“The high yields and cost efficiencies provided by our new facility represent a unique competitive advantage. The SBC-Mitsubishi research team together with the consultative support from Chitose Group successfully designed and developed the algae cultivation facility with a PBR system using recyclable and economic thin plastic film bags that enable outdoor cultivation to harness maximum sunlight at an economical cost.

“In addition, Sarawak’s indigenous microalgae strains can be quite robust despite climate changes because it is adapted to the local climate. The combined cost efficiency and high yield traits give our facility a competitive advantage with optimised production,” Yeo added.

It is said that the facility is the culmination of the collaboration between the two organisations that was initiated in 2012 – aimed at identifying useful microalgae indigenous to Sarawak for biomass, feedstock, biofuel, food, or health supplement production.

The facility, which was designed in collaboration with Japan-based Chitose Group and built at a cost of RM1.5 million, was completed in November last year.

“With the renewable energy thrust for algae as a source of biofuels continuing to gain traction globally, the high lipid and carotenoid yields observed in Sarawak’s indigenous microalgae strains represent a great potential,” said Yeo.

Meanwhile, Mitsubishi Corporation Kuala Lumpur general manager Genichi Ichikawa said it was a great pleasure that their efforts in the collaboration research had borne fruit in the form of the new, ground-breaking facility;d he hoped that it would contribute to the creation of bio-industry in Sarawak.

The SBC-MC algae cultivation facility will be launched by Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg during an event that would also be attended by senior officials from the Malaysian government, Mitsubishi Corporation and Chitose Group, as well as representatives of several corporate players.

An exhibition on microalgae featuring compelling displays, commercial applications and future aspirations, would be run in conjunction with the event.

For further information on the algae cultivation facility’s launch and corporate partner interest, contact Hii Mei Mei or Constance Vanessa Victor via 082-610 610, or send emails to [email protected]