Making the Desert Bloom
By Michal Lev-Ram

(Business 2.0) – Red Microalgae could be the new superfood. They're full of antioxidant-rich astaxanthin, a pigment purported to protect against ultraviolet rays, enhance the immune system, and maintain vision. Now Algatechnologies wants to make the desert the new ocean: The Israeli startup is cultivating red algae in the middle of Israel's Arava desert, taking advantage of cheap land and year-round sunlight with more than 60 miles of water-filled tubing. Algatechnologies and Hawaii-based Cyanotech are the two main suppliers of natural astaxanthin. And the pigment, like pomegranate juice, is going mainstream, its benefits touted by more than 300 journals and patents. The worldwide market for its food and cosmetics uses is $20 million and growing. But red algae are also crucial to salmon diets, and a bigger opportunity awaits in the $240 million astaxanthin fish-feed industry. Right now 97 percent of astaxanthin for feed is created in labs, but as health concerns spur a move toward natural pigment, CEO Ed Hofland says Algatechnologies could bring in $50 million in sales during the next four years. When algae grow in the desert, anything is possible. -- MICHAL LEV-RAM