ITALY- A transformative initiative called Asteasier, spearheaded by researcher Matteo Ballottari from the University of Verona, Italy, is set to revolutionize astaxanthin production, which is an important ingredient in aquafeed production.

Astaxanthin, known for its premium price tag in the market, has long faced challenges related to slow growth rates, cultivation complexities, and expensive extraction processes. 

However, a consortium of researchers participating in the Asteasier project is optimistic about the potential of two microalgae strains to offer a more efficient, economical, and simplified method of astaxanthin production. 

The project is one of 20 European Innovation Council-funded transition projects dedicated to translating innovative technologies from the laboratory to practical application.

Over the past months, selected microalgae strains developed at the University of Verona have been cultivated in large-scale photobioreactors in Italy and Portugal. These strains, originating from novel microalgae species and protected by specific patents, have consistently demonstrated exceptional productivity in astaxanthin accumulation and resilience to environmental stressors.

Matteo Ballottari, the coordinator of Asteasier, highlighted the resilience of these strains, stating, “This resilience supports a more cost-effective production model.”

The project, scheduled to conclude in December 2024 with an estimated cost of €2 (US$ 2.18) million, focuses on validating the technology in microalgae cultivation and confirming the biomass’s suitability for feed production.

Feed trials, set to begin this month in collaboration with BioMar, a major player in aqua feed, will assess the incorporation of the biomass into specialized feed formulations tailored for salmon production. Additionally, the microalgae strains offer valuable by-products such as omega-3.

Plans for commercial development include establishing a spin-out company from the University of Verona and installing a demo pilot site in Verona, operational by the end of February. 

Matteo Ballottari added, “While preliminary discussions with investors have occurred, we await validation from fish trials to advance these conversations.

Asteasier received local recognition by winning the Veneto Startup Cup in October last year, focusing on business innovation. Astaxanthin, widely used in feed for salmonids and shrimp, is sought after for its role as a pigment and antioxidant. 

With the growing interest in organically farmed fish and sustainable practices, the demand for natural astaxanthin is on the rise.

Currently, synthetic astaxanthin dominates the market, produced through chemical synthesis from petroleum sources. However, Asteasier’s breakthrough technology, along with other players in the market, aims to shift towards sustainable and natural methods of astaxanthin production, marking a significant step forward in the aquaculture and feed industries.

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