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 CFPPA-HYERES Spirulina Training Program

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  4 - Lake TEXCOCO story -

By 1950 the great lake of Mexico had become nearly filled in to make way for the huge and spreading Mexico City that was constructed mainly by consolidating many small floating islands of wetland plants. The lake had become a chain of small lakes, the biggest being Lake Texcoco.
For many thousands of years the melting snows of nearby Mt. Popocatepetl and Mt. Ixtachihuatl drained into the Lake of Mexico, dissolving salts from the mountains and depositing them in the lake which had no outlet other than through evaporation. As a consequence Lake Texcoco became rich in alkalies, especially sodium carbonate.
In the sixty's, the mining corporation Sosa Texcoco had estab1ished a spiral-formed solar evaporator pond of 3.4 kilometers in diameter (900 hectares) from which they extracted sodium carbonate and bicarbonate; and they were having trouble in a certain part of the spiral where the alkalinity and salts concentration were ideal for the growth of our blue-green algae friend, Spirulina. Concentrated blooms of Spirulina were "gumming up" the mining operation. Luckily at that time there was an international petroleum congress in Mexico City attended by Geneviève Clément of the Institut Français du Pétrole who was engaged then in the study of systems for growing Spirulina. (This was not long after it became known that the Kanembous of Chad were eating Spirulina - and the I.F.P. team, along with General Félix Busson of the French Army Pharmaceutical Corps, was looking for emergency foods, found in the African desert which could be used by isolated French Army troops).

Hubert Durand-Chastel - French Director of Sosa Texcoco,
The French Director of Sosa Texcoco, Hubert Durand-Chastel, met Geneviève Clément and she told him the good news that his troublesome alga was Spirulina. He quickly saw that this new product could become even more important than the carbonates. Working more or less in collaboration, they used technologies weIl established in the mining and agro-business fields which could do on a large scale what the Aztecs and Kanembous had been doing with artisanal methods. Nine years later, Sosa Texcoco was the first producer to create the market and sell Spirulina.

They were producing 300 tons of dried Spirulina powder per year .
A culture of Spirulina in a natural lake - or in an artificial culture basin - actually is quite dilute. Though the color may be dark blue-green and it may seem that you could walk upon it, there is only from 0.1 to about 0.6 grams of dried algae equivalent per liter. So the culture must be filtered. At Sosa Texcoco the culture was pumped up to where it could fall into a series of inclined filtration screens. The algae remained on top while most of the water went through the screens and was recirculated back to the evaporation basin. A thick slurry of Spirulina made its way by gravitation toward the lower edge of the filter screens, and was assisted by the gentle nudging of fresh water jets which also rinsed the salts from the algae.

tecoco drawing

Falling off the filter screens the slurry (still about 90% water) was taken to a vacuum-belt filter where it was dewatered to about 60% moisture content. This produces a thick paste which holds its form if cut with a knife. At Sosa Texcoco the dewatered slurry was milled and pasteurized at 63 °C for a few minutes before being dried in a conventional spray dryer (the kind used for producing powdered milk).
The pasteurized slurry enters the top of the spray dryer where under high pressure it is forced through a spray nozzle into a heated low pressure chamber. The fine mist of algae follows a cyclone pathway to the bottom of the spray dryer where it falls into food grade plastic bags. The fine powder now contains only 3 to 5% of humidity. It is packaged hermetically immediately, and is ready for shipping. The temperature at the top of the dryer is about 183°C and at the outlet about 83°C. The time for the algae to go from the spray nozzle to packaging is about 12 to 15 seconds; the temperature inside the algal cells reaches less than 65°C.
This ingenious solution to a mining problem created the blueprint which has been followed by other commercial producers of Spirulina.
The product is presented as an extremely fine dark green powder -and the customer is left largely on his own to determine how to eat it. The powder particles range from about 2 to 10µ in diameter. Thus a dose of 10 grams (about 20ml) cou1d have a surface area of about 31.3 square meters!
Because of this enormous surface area, the odor and taste of the product are exaggerated (more molecules get to our sensory receptors) and the moment of high temperature in the primary cyclone of the spray dryer also alters the chemistry and subsequently the odor and taste. (When one eats the freshly-collected and rinsed algal cake there is practically no odor or taste to Spirulina). ln addition, the extremely large surface area of this powder makes it dïfficult to wet, to swallow, or to blend with other foods.
One can deduce from the sales figures ( 3000 tons produced mondially in 2001) , clearly, the product has little appeal to most people - .
Spray dryer
Control board Spray dryer
The solution proposed by the Spirulina producers has been to put the powder into capsules or pills.
The composition of Spirulina shows clearly that it is a high protein content food with important amounts of vitamins, minerals, and essential non-saturated fatty acids but low in calories. Traditionally it has been eaten in combination with cereals, thus making it an appropriate food for treating protein-energy malnutrition .
If Spirulina is not to be eaten immediately at the production site, it should be dried to a residual humidity content of 7% or less.
Earthrise Spray-dryier
Earthrise Co. Spray dryer
Once dried and kept from oxidation and sunlight, the product can be kept for long periods, enabling stockage and distribution.
The equipment used for spray drying is costly and it requires major amounts (around 1 KWh per kilo of dried product) of energy to operate. We find that the filter cake instead of going through the spray drying process can be dried simply by being mixed with dry precooked cereal flour such as wheat, maize, millet, rice, oats, barley, etc.. ln a properly designed mixer the dry flour pumps the water from the algae cake within about 5 seconds, leaving a perfectly blended mixture wïth only about 5 to 7% overall humidity.

mixing spirulina & cereals
IZMIR, Turkey, 26 October 2001

This breakthrough will make a complete food enriched with Spirulina available to the major food aid organizations of the world. With the countries which are members of the Intergovernmental Spirulina Program asking for it, we should be seeing improvement in child health and less and less malnutrition occuring in developing countries

So, Spirulina is a wonderful microorganism capable of being transformed into a complete food when mixed with cereals. It has been used to treat malnutrition victims with success in many countries: India, Senegal, Togo, Vietnam, Burkina Faso, Benin, Central African Repubic,Democratic Republic of Congo, Brazil, Cuba, China, ThaIland - to name a few. More than a thousand scientific articles about Spirulina have been published; there are 20 or more books and more than 20 doctoral theses devoted to Spirulina.

- Introduction ] CD-ROM Spirulina for Reducing Malnutrition - Historic of the World ]
- SPIRULINA Composition  ]   [  - Texcoco Lake Story  ]
 [ -  
WHERE SPIRULINA is found ] [  - Basins  ]   [  - Photosynthesis ]  
- SPIRULINA Production  ]  [  - Laboratory ]  [  - Harvesting ]
- Mix-drying SPIRULINA ]   [  - Starting ]  [ Problems and Solutions  ] 
[  -
- Why should we grow SPIRULINA ? : for nutrition and health ]
- Public Information-paper on SPIRULINAuseful links ]


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