Cyanotech develops and commercializes natural products from microalgae at its facilities on the Kona Coast of Hawaii. The company, which was created in 1983, offers two general product lines: spirulina (blue-green algae) and natural astaxanthin. Of the two product lines, the former consists of microalgae products for the nutritional supplement and immunological diagnostics markets. For the latter, Cyanotech manufactures microalgae-based products for the aquaculture feed/pigments and food coloring markets. One of those products, NatuRose™ Natural Astaxanthin, is used to impart color to the flesh of pen-raised fish and shrimp.
Of the company’s sixty-one employees, ten are technicians. “They work in a variety of areas, including research and development (creating new microalgae products) and trouble-shooting (eliminating problems in the processing and culture phases),” explains Dr. Gerald Cysewski, Cyanotech’s President. “We also have biologists who work primarily with the chemistry of our culture ponds, and quality control people who do microbiological testing.”
"Cyanotech manufactures microalgae-based products for the aquaculture feed/pigments and food coloring markets"
Most of Cyanotech’s technicians have four-year degrees, but a few have worked their way up to a technician position through on-the-job training. “We look for people who have a biology or microbiology degree, with a strong chemistry background,” explains Cysewski. “This combination of training is important to us because the work is all about maintaining good chemical balance in the growth media (water) and making calculations, as well as understanding what’s going on in a biological sense.”
A good understanding of biology and chemistry is just the beginning, though. “We search for team players – people who can work with others; we don’t want someone who works in a corner by himself,” Cysewski emphasizes. “We need people who communicate well, too.”
Cyanotech has designed and implemented production and harvesting technologies and processes that eliminate some of the problems often encountered in the production of microalgae. For example, its patented “Ocean Chill Drying” process is designed to eliminate the oxidation of carotenes and fatty acids that occurs in standard dryers. The process, which employs a closed drying system that is kept at low oxygen concentrations by flushing with nitrogen and carbon dioxide, relies on very cold ocean water drawn from 2,000-foot depths just offshore to provide dehumidification.
"We look for people who have a biology or microbiology degree, with a strong chemistry background"
Cysewski likens Cyanotech’s microalgae growth and production process to fermentation technology. “It’s a very technical pursuit; we maintain the conditions to optimize growth and control the costs, so we really need trained staff to be able to monitor our conditions and take actions, or the algae will stop growing or, worse, die.” The bottom line is that the company’s technical staff play a crucial role in Cyanotech’s economic success.
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