Abundance at the Bottom: Algae Based Nutritional Supplement and Sustainable Bio-Fuel Production

Terra Endeavors is a social entrepreneurship firm collaborating with rural communities in developing regions around the world to produce and distribute algae-derived nutritional supplements while fostering sustainable community and environmental-development. The business is comprised of two parts – 1) a for-profit business, Terra Endeavors LLC which will be producing Great Rift Valley Nutritionals, the world’s first social-cause “superfood” brand of nutritional supplements and 2) a not-for-profit, Terra Endeavors Foundation, which focuses on providing rural communities with clean-burning cooking fuel, nutritional supplements to help combat malnutrition, clean water, renewable electricity, high-protein animal feed, organic fertilizer & jobs.

Terra Endeavors LLC will be collaborating with rural communities throughout North & sub-Saharan Africa to produce Great Rift Valley Nutritionals, the world’s first environmental- and social-cause brand of nutritional supplements. The first nutritional product we will be cultivating is Spirulina – a type of blue-green algae indigenous to the volcanic lakes of Africa’s Great Rift Valley. This “superfood” (as many have described it) offers some of the highest protein & micronutritient content of any food on the planet. Spirulina has become tremendously popular in the US, EU and several other wealthier markets, typically selling at a retail market value of US$200-$400 per kilogram.

Great Rift Valley Spirulina & Great Rift Valley Chlorella will initially be sold at natural & health-food grocery store chains in the East African Community (Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda & Burundi). We are also making arrangements to distribute these nutritional supplements to food-aid organizations working in the region to help fight severe malnutrition. As production increases, it will become possible to begin collaborating with rural communities in North Africa and exporting these products to the US, EU, Australia/New Zealand and Asia. In the future, the goal is to expand our production into several other high-value aquatic plant-based nutritional supplements – including Omega-3, DHA & Astaxanthin.

  Spirulina growth facility in Kisumu, Kenya & a close-up of the finished product
Compared to their cost of production, the retail price of Spirulina, Chlorella and other branded nutrition supplements offer some of the highest margins of any grocery store product sold. At the same time, nutritional supplement buyers are some of the strongest proponents of corporate social responsibility, the environment and sustainable development.

Terra Endeavors Foundation will fulfill the Great Rift Valley Nutritionals brand’s promise by using contributions from Terra Endeavors LLC and carbon-offset credits to help set up integrated systems comprised of low-cost algae raceway ponds, rainwater harvesting, biodigester units, ethanol & biodiesel production facilities. While these technologies have been utilized for decades on a stand-alone basis, we will be the first to integrate them together so that  the byproducts of each process become key inputs for the next. The total system is able to provide entire communities with ultra-clean burning ethanol cooking fuel, renewable electricity for area clinics, schools, shops/businesses and homes, high-protein animal feed, organic fertilizer, algae-derived biodiesel, clean drinking water, and managerial, skilled & unskilled employment opportunities.

Together, our combined operations can be depicted as follows:

Algae Cultivation System

The first component of our system is made up of covered raceway ponds built almost exclusively of local materials on non-arable land for cultivating Spirulina, Chlorella and other fast-growing algae.

       

Our partners’ pilot-scale algae growth facilities in Johannesburg

Given the amount of sunlight that falls on both North & sub-Saharan Africa, when provided with a small amount of nutrients, algae in this part of the world thrive. Instead of having to utilize arable land and wait months to grow & harvest a conventional crop, over just a 2-3 day period, the algae we cultivate grows so quickly that it fills nearly all the available space of our raceway ponds, at which point it is harvested to make room for the next growth cycle.

 

Algae-based Nutrition Supplements

Roughly half of our algae growth area will be used to cultivate Spirulina & Chlorella. Spirulina is a species of blue-green algae indigenous to the volcanic lakes of sub-Saharan Africa and offers some of the highest protein & micronutrient content of any food on the planet. Working in conjunction with our partners at Dunga Spirulina (https://www.facebook.com/dungaspirulina), once grown, harvested and de-watered, this material is dried, quality-tested, packaged & sold to thru local retail stores and food-aid organizations to help combat the malnutrition epidemic confronting the region.

Spirulina Nutritional Supplements

As Spirulina has become tremendously popular in the US, EU and several other wealthier markets in the form of capsules, powders, energy drinks, energy bars & other snacks, we are also making arrangements to export our Great Rift Valley Spirulina & Great Rift Valley Chlorella to these markets as Africa’s first fair-trade, social-cause “superfood” brand of nutritional supplements, known as being produced by these rural communities.

Whole Foods Market (http://www.wholefoodsmarket.com/whole-foods-market), the US’s premier chain of natural & health-food grocery stores has already expressed interest in carrying these products. Product packaging and a modest media campaign will let consumers know that a large portion of the selling price they pay will be used to fund construction of integrated algae/biodigester/rainwater harvesting systems throughout the region, funded & managed by Terra Endeavors Foundation.

 

Algae-derived Biofuels

The other half of our algae growth area will be used to cultivate fast-growing, Scendesmus dimorphus, Duckweed & wild indigenous algae. These aquatic species grow so quickly that they are harvested on a daily basis. Once the algae is harvested, excess water is recycled back into our raceway ponds. The algae is then partially dried and put thru a specially designed mechanical press manufactured by Pacific Oil Products (http://pacificoilproducts.com/poproducts.htm) to extract its oil content which is processed into biodiesel.

The algae biomass that remains is then hydrolyzed, fermented, distilled & denatured into ultra-clean burning ethanol cooking fuel – a much healthier & environmentally-sound alternative to wood & charcoal.

Algae-derived Ethanol Cooking Fuel & Project Gaia’s CleanCook stove

Our colleagues at Project Gaia (http://www.projectgaia.com) will be helping supply the our partner communities with their very safe, efficient & thoroughly tested CleanCook stove, which families can use in conjunction with the algae-derived ethanol we produce.

The main byproduct of the ethanol production process is dried distillers grain. This material makes for an excellent, high-protein animal feed and will also be sold to the community.

 

Rainwater Harvesting

Our algae growth units will be the first ever to operate as part of a rainwater harvesting system. In a region with precipitation similar to that of Western Kenya, a 3 hectare village-scale system will allow us to gather, store & donate more than 5 million liters of freshwater per year to the community and surrounding villages. Even in a region like Amman, Jordan, this size system can gather roughly 2 million liters of freshwater per year. In addition to providing greatly improved access to fresh drinking water and the tremendously positive health effects this will have, we will be able to displace thousands of tons of CO2 that would otherwise have been emitted burning wood & charcoal to purify unsafe drinking water.

 

Biogas-to-Electricity System

Alongside our algae raceway ponds, we will set up a series of community-scale biodigester units. We will pay members of the community a tipping fee to provide us with various forms of discarded organic material and animal waste, which will serve as input to our biodigesters. As this material breaks down, methane-rich biogas gas will be produced. This fuel will be scrubbed & used to power a series of engine-gensets to generate enough electricity to power an entire village of 3,000-4,000, including clinics, schools, businesses/shops & homes. This renewable electricity will offset another several hundred tons of CO2 per year that would otherwise have been emitted burning imported diesel & kerosene used to run inefficient & dirty portable generators. The liquid effluent from the biodigester makes for an excellent organic fertilizer for local farmers and for our algae biofuel operations, while the remaining biodigester solids will be gasified to provide additional biogas for renewable electricity generation.

Biodigester & Engine-Genset facilities generating Mini-Grid Electricity

 

CO2 mitigation

Algae are remarkable in their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere and from external sources, if available. For each kilogram of algae grown, roughly 2 kilograms of CO2 are absorbed – meaning our 3 hectare village-scale facility will be capable of removing over 11,000 tons of CO2 each year. As an integrated system, the CO2 released in each of the other processes we utilize (biodigestion, ethanol production & electricity generation) will be captured & fed back to our raceway ponds to further boost our algae’s growth rate. In addition, CO2 emissions are further displaced as these communities utilize our ethanol cooking fuel and fresh drinking water. All these processes ensure our operations reduce as much CO2 as possible.

 

To learn more about Terra Endeavors see: http://vc4africa.biz/ventures/algae-production-on-the-shores-of-lake-victoria-1756258844/ and please also see: http://www.avif.org.uk/

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