Evaluating algae co-products as potential sources of livestock feed

By BLAIR FANNIN, b-fannin@tamu.edu

Texas AgriLife Research scientists are discovering innovative, cutting-edge methods to use algae co-products.

From production techniques to economics, researchers are evaluating the potential uses of algae and co-products to service a variety of future needs.

Co-products and Feed

Tryon-Wickersham

Tryon Wickersham

AgriLife Research scientists have identified algae co-products as a potential high-protein ingredient in animal feeds, such as cattle and fish food.

After drying and extracting the oil from the algae, biofuel producers are left with a high-protein powder that may be used as an ingredient for feeds. This could be a potential benefit to the cattle industry, which relies on feed to put gain on cattle, particularly the feedlot industry.

“Our goal is to be the first to feed it to cattle,” said Dr. Tryon Wickersham, an AgriLife Research animal nutrition scientist.

With a crude protein content as high as 30 percent, not only does it have the potential to become a valuable supplement for cattle feed, but also a protein source for fish, such as shrimp and redfish, which are currently under study.

“We’re in our first year of determining nutritive value and, more specifically, the concentrations of  carbohydrates, amino acids and minerals,” Wickersham said.

For beef cattle, there’s anticipation that algae co-products could be fed as a protein supplement, for both grazing cattle and in feedlots.

“It would definitely give them an alternative source of nitrogen,” Wickersham said. “What we are working on now is identifying any components that add value to it.”

Algae co-products are also being studied for potential as a source of nitrogen fertilizer.

“There’s still a lot work to be done, but there’s a lot of potential here that could benefit agriculture,” Wickersham said.

Research continues across Texas, which includes College Station, Beeville, Vernon and Bushland.

Economics of Algae

Using a risk-based financial simulation framework, economists with AgriLife Research developed a model to analyze the economic viability of an algae farm in the Pecos, Texas region. The model serves as a decision aid when calculating a variety of scenarios related to algae production.

“The model considers the impacts of weather (temperature and evaporation) risk and price and costs risks,” said Dr. James Richardson, AgriLife Research economist and co-director of the Agricultural and Food Policy Center.

“Additionally, risk on the amount of algae produced per year and the oil content of the algae were considered to be risky variables, based on Pecos research results.  The model calculates the cost of developing an algae farm based on pond size, depth, water source, carbon source, and harvesting and extraction method.”

The model’s estimated costs to develop a commercial size facility were used to estimate the economic impacts to the Texas economy of a 1,000 acre foot algae farm in the Pecos area.

The results of the regional impact analysis show that for every 1,000 acre feet of algae ponds, Texas will see 245 new jobs created and $12.8 million of added value.

“The regional impact analysis was based on multipliers generated by the IMPLAN model, which relies on the 2007 U.S. Census of Manufactures,” Richardson said.

By using modeling data, timely and probable forecasts can be developed to evaluate the overall potential of a developed algae operation.

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