SINGAPORE (Aug 19): Marine biologist Baruch Dach’s quest to grow algae began in the most unlikely of places — in the Negev desert in Israel. In 2009, the new graduate was among a team of scientists commissioned by a petro­chemical company to turn algae into biofuels or biofuel feedstock. Oil prices were lofty, sparking a boom for alternative energy sources. “We were crazy enough [to take on the project]. I was in charge of building the facility in the desert,” he laughs. “It was us, a camel and a goat out there.”

Three years later, oil prices crashed and Dach’s project ended, as it made more commercial sense to stick with crude oil. To be fair, most algae-for-fuel productions fell through, as costs were prohibitive. Dach did not abandon his quest. Instead of creating an alternative energy source, he pivoted towards the creation of an alternative food source: He started growing the blue-green algae spirulina for human consumption.

In 2013, Dach and a few friends built a makeshift freshwater pond and a greenhouse using tools he bought from hardware stores. The backyard testbed eventually grew into one of the biggest fresh spirulina commercial facilities today. Dach’s company AlgaeCore — now known as AlgaeMor after a joint venture with Israel’s agricultural company Mor Group — has two ponds in Israel producing 0.35 tonne of spirulina each month. 

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