Growing up in a small city near Shanghai, bioengineering alum Wei Yu (MS ’12, PhD ’14) was always concerned about the mounting environmental crisis he saw around him. As a child, he would walk the riverbanks next to his home, where chemical factories and paper mills had polluted the water. The fish were gone, and children could no longer swim in the river.
In 2013, leveraging his bioengineering degree from UCLA Samueli, Yu saw an opportunity to start Lyxia Corporation and Xiaozao Technology to produce omega-3-based products from a sustainable source — microalgae.
Yu noticed that the increasing global demand for omega-3 fatty acids, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and DHA (docosahexaenoic acid), was adding pressure on fisheries — the main source of these nutrients. Both EPA and DHA are vital for the development and maintenance of the brain, eyes, heart and numerous other vital functions. Yu chose to harness a more sustainable source for these nutrients — a strain of Nannochloropsis salina, an EPA-rich species of green microalgae.
The company’s carbon-neutral operation is a point of pride for Yu and his team.
“The Nannochloropsis strain contains 33% lipid content by weight and a significant amount of omega-3 EPA,” Yu said. “As a photoautotrophic green microalga, it only needs carbon dioxide, sunlight and sea water in order to thrive and proliferate.”
The company’s carbon-neutral operation is a point of pride for Yu and his team. The commercially cultivated microalgae consume the greenhouse gas CO2 and release pure oxygen as a “waste” product. All portions of the algae are valuable products, nothing is wasted, and all seawater is recycled and reused as well.
“We are purifying CO2 from flue gas released from a local power-generation station and infusing it into our ponds to sustain our crop,” Yu said. “This CO2 would otherwise rise into the atmosphere and contribute to the gas blanket linked to global warming.”
While the two companies are headquartered in Shenzhen, China, and have farm and production facilities in the Guangxi Province on the South China Sea, their team members come from across Asia, South America, North America and Europe.
“The vast number of commercial algae applications, from biofuel for aircraft to a source of protein for growing populations, has resulted in our hiring professionals from around the world who are skilled and interested in this work,” Yu said.
According to Yu, the group is in its final pre-launch stage and plans to enter the market by the end of 2020. “Our current business model is primarily selling to nutraceutical and pharmaceutical companies that, in turn, develop and market branded products incorporating our algal materials,” Yu said.
In the next few years, the company plans on integrating its microalgal products into other industries, such as whole foods, cosmetics and animal nutrition.