Land-based tests for a ‘revolutionary’ process for extracting oil from South Antarctic krill have been successfully completed.
They show very promising results, says Dimitri Sclabos, general manager of Tharos, the Chile-based consultancy which developed the new technique. At-sea tests will be conducted between the 2012 krill season, which finishes on 30 November, and early in 2013 at the latest, he adds.
Mr Sclabos had been hoping that the sea-based tests would also have been concluded by now, but current krill operators were not keen to co-operate.
“We are extremely competitive [on price] – we need to prove it of course – so several krill operators do not want new processing ideas that may be more cost-competitive than the ones they are already using. We are therefore trying to conclude agreements with operators with whom a business model developed ‘among equals’ can be finalised.”
At present several processes are used to extract oil from krill. However, Mr Sclabos claims that the Tharos technique is the only one not to involve the use of solvents or chemicals. “It therefore leaves no residue in the final product which is aimed at the human pharmaceutical and health supplement market,” he says.
“We believe this to be a highly cost-efficient evolution from other concepts and we have applied for an international patent.”
The normal feed-grade and low quality krill oil extraction process used onboard a catching vessel involves cooking the raw material which is then pressed and the liquids separated/cleaned by centrifuges and polishers.
Although no solvents are used in this extraction method, the oil yield is lower than that obtained using the Tharos method and the quality is poorer, Mr Sclabos says.
“There is a very low content of EPA/DHA [eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids] and almost no phospholipids, which have great market value, while ours is very high in both.
“Krill oil obtained using our extraction method also contains a higher amount of natural astaxanthin, a powerful antioxidant.”
Other extraction methods are carried out on land on whole frozen krill or krill meal which has been previously produced onboard a fishing vessel. These processes all involve the use of solvents.
Pharma-grade krill oils can be obtained in this way, Mr Sclabos says, but some residues may remain on the final product and freshness is compromised if processing conditions are not well taken care of. “Our method eliminates the solvent application to get a quality krill oil with no residues at all and with a pharma-quality grade, plus the added benefit of a lower processing cost-base.
“Added to this is that the resulting krill oil is extremely fresh, free of land-based pollutants, heavy metals, dioxins, PCBs and the like.”
Krill oil is probably “the hottest ingredient in the food market today”, according to Mr Sclabos.
“Not only is it a natural source of the omega-3 fatty acids, plus the antioxidant astaxanthin, it is unique in that the majority of the fatty acids are provided in phospholipid form. This means there is increased tissue accumulation of the fatty acids and improved blood lipid profiles.
“Krill oil therefore has a much better health-boosting effect than fish and other omega-3 containing oils.”