Trini in Texas looks to monetise algae
TRINIDAD-BORN chief executive of Texas algae-producing company, AlgEternal Technologies David Ramjohn, is hoping that Trinidad and Tobago will embrace microalgae, which he feels has great environmental, social and economic benefits for humankind.
Describing microalgae as ubiquitous and versatile, Ramjohn said they can contribute enormous value to the Earth’s ecosystems. He says AlgEternal Technologies, has patented Vertical Growth Module (VGM) technology, which harnesses these micro-powerhouses of primary production, allowing AlgEternal Technologies to cultivate them at scale and extract valuable products from them.
He says the benefits of the company’s microalgae production include minimum land requirements, low energy inputs, high water efficiency, low operating costs and extremely high quality biofuels that are more economically viable. The company is based in a town called La Grange in Texas.
Algae as a feedstock have been used for many products and applications, and new ones are constantly being discovered. Ramjohn said with the recent surge in interest to use algae as a feedstock for biofuels, there is growing interest in utilising the algal biomass in an optimal manner—not just to produce fuel but it can also be economically viable when used in other products and applications. New uses are constantly being discovered.
AlgEternal Technologies uses a specific technology to grow microalgae, David Ramjohn told Express Business.
“We can either make products out of the algae or grow for someone who wants the biomass to do something. We currently have two products that the company is selling, one is an algae-based soil amendment and the other is a line of skincare called “AlgAlure,” with an extract of red marine algae in it.”
Ramjohn said the skincare product was supposed to be featured at the American Chamber of Commerce of Trinidad and Tobago (AMCHAM T&T) Annual Women’s Leadership conference at the Hyatt Hotel, last Friday.
That conference was cancelled due to the announcement by the Health Ministry of confirmed cases of the coronavirus in Trinidad last Thursday.
The Chamber decided to cancel the event even though over 300 people registered, as the Government had urged citizens to avoid large gatherings.
Ramjohn, who became CEO of AlgEternal Technologies in 2016, said PhycoDerm, the clinically tested primary extract from the richly superior culture of marine red microalgae, when scientifically tested, exhibited significant skin rejuvenating, antioxidant and age-defying properties.
The skincare product line has a facial cleanser, facial serum, a daytime moisturiser and a night cream, which Ramjohn said the company has tried to keep all natural and stay away from the chemicals that can be found in other skin care products.
“We just got a resounding review from an American actress Jacqueline Hayles who did a YouTube video and said she has been using the products for six weeks and has seen significant improvement to her skin. She encouraged her followers to try it and we are hopeful that it will sell in T&T’s pharmacies and leading cosmetic stores.”
He said: “How the company ended up doing the skincare line was that they were growing the micro-red algae for a project they were working on for a large company and that fell through. So AlgEternal Technologies, which was formed in 2010, was left with the ability to grow the algae and extract the substance, but nowhere to put it.”
Ramjohn said he came up with the idea to make the product and sell it, as the company is not yet set up for federal clearances and good manufacturing practices as they are essentially farmers growing an aquatic plant.
“Our ability to grow algae makes us unique in the algae space. We can grow it really quickly and it is very cost effective,” Ramjohn said.
His aim is to bring the technology to T&T and produce the algae which are safer for the environment and also very good for farmers and their soil.
“All we need in T&T is willing and able partners to come on board. We would like to come in with our own capital, get some land, get an entity set up and use people who have studied microbiology to push the business forward.”
Ramjohn is confident that he can come back to the country of his birth and make a difference. He says he once worked at the Environmental Management Authority and was then the CEO of green energy company Synergy Resources Limited T&T.
Before heading off to Texas, he made a business proposal to grow algae in T&T but no one recognised or understood it.
Ramjohn said since working with AlgEternal Technologies, he has been appointed to the Industry Advisory Board (IAB)—Biotechnology, in the College of Technology of the University of Houston (UH). He is on the board of directors of the Algae Biomass Organisation and he has recently been appointed to the Technical Advisory Council for Algae Center of Excellence that is seeking appropriations from the US government.
“I said all of this to show that I have gotten more recognition from the United States than I have received in my own country. Talented people have to leave these shores in order to prosper, when it can be done here.”
His aim is to develop AlgEternal Technologies as a skincare, agriculture, nutraceutical division along with ecosystem services.
Ramjohn added that the company is a members of AMCHAM T&T and has benefited a great deal from the Chamber under the stewardship of the president Pat Ghany and CEO Nirad Tewarie. He hopes companies here are making use of what AMCHAM can do for them.