Why did you start euglena Co., Ltd.? Have you been conducting research on the Euglena microalgae from the beginning?
You can read the story behind our founding here.
What is “Euglena”? What characteristics does it have?
Euglena is a small microorganism (a kind of algae) with a body length of only about 0.05 mm.
The thickness of the hair is about 0.07 mm, so it is smaller than that.
The only way to see it clearly is to look under a microscope.
Euglena, with both animal and plant characteristics, grows in freshwater.
Also, although it is called "modorimushi" in Japanese name, it is not a "Mushi" but a member of the same "algae" as wakame seaweed and kelp. Not only can the green body photosynthesize and store nutrients in the body like a plant, but it can also transform and move cells like an animal.
Organisms that have both plant and animal properties in terms of biology are extremely rare.
Have people conducted research on Euglena in the past?
Euglena came into existence on primitive Earth more than 500 million years ago. It was discovered by Dutchman Antonie van Leeuwenhoek in the 1660s. The name “Euglena” means beautiful (eu) eye (glena) in Latin.
Later, in the 1950s, American biochemist Melvin Calvin and others studied photosynthesis using Euglena and other microorganisms, unraveling the mechanisms of the Calvin-Benson cycle, which is the carbon fixation reaction in photosynthesis. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1961 for this achievement.
In the 1970s, Euglena even attracted the attention of the United States National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) for its potential in space development.
Initially, NASA chose Euglena to use as a model organism to monitor its behavior in space, but it also stirred interest due the twofold merits of its ability to live off of sunlight and carbon dioxide; and the fact that the carbon dioxide exhaled by astronauts promoted the growth of Euglena, consequently producing oxygen.
Additionally, in the 1990s, research was conducted on medical treatments, medical products, and carbon dioxide fixation using Euglena.
What exactly is involved in the mass cultivation of Euglena outdoors?
We safely cultivate Euglena in isolation in large quantities outdoors. Euglena is an organism at the very bottom of the food chain and, as a result, is quickly eaten by other organisms in the wild.
Creating an environment which makes it easy for Euglena to propagate but which is difficult for other organisms to live in is what enabled us to achieve the cultivation of Euglena in large quantities.
Have you patented your outdoor mass cultivation technology?
We have not patented our outdoor mass cultivation technology.
In order to patent it, we would have to provide a detailed description of how we cultivate Euglena, which would then become public record. And in that event, even if someone were to use that information to copy our method, it would be impossible for us to confirm whether or not they were using our technology to cultivate Euglena. That is why we have chosen not to patent our technology, but to keep it a trade secret instead.
Have you obtained any other patents?
Other than our cultivation technology, we apply for patents for our applications and methods of utilization of Euglena as needed.
Where do you conduct your research?
Can I tour one of your factories or research facilities?
Due to the need to protect our intellectual property, we must refuse any and all tours of our production facilities. We do conduct tours of our research facilities as part of educational and social contribution activities; however, in order to protect our intellectual property and prevent delays in the progress of our research, in general we refuse tours for any other purpose.
What does Euglena taste like?
Many people say it tastes like kombu (a common type of edible kelp) or matcha powdered green tea.
Is it dangerous if you eat too much Euglena?
Unless you eat a very large amount in one day, Euglena does not contain any substances which would pose an issue if overconsumed. Euglena does contain vitamin K, however, which can reverse the effects of Warfarin, an anticoagulant; accordingly, we recommend that persons taking Warfarin consult with a doctor before consuming Euglena.
How is Euglena different from Chlorella?
Differences include the fact that Euglena provides animal nutrients, and that its proteins have a high rate of absorption because Euglena does not have a cell wall.
Why did you start researching bio-jet fuel?
In 2010, a time when the cutting of greenhouse gas emissions had become a shared global issue, there was demand to reduce the emission of carbon dioxide (CO2) in the field of air transport, and research and development concerning bio-jet fuel was being conducted, primarily in other countries. Against this backdrop, Nippon Oil Corporation (now JX Nippon Oil & Energy Corporation), in response to requests by Japanese airline companies ANA and JAL to develop a bio-jet fuel, began investigating the creation of a bio-jet fuel from Euglena, an organism with a higher CO2 absorption efficiency than terrestrial plants and which would not compete with food resources. That led to the start of a joint research project with Hitachi Plant Technologies (now Hitachi, Ltd.), which possessed cultivation process technologies; and our company, which possessed technologies for the cultivation of the Euglena microalgae.
Why use Euglena for jet fuel?
Jet fuel for airplanes must be a light fuel such as diesel fuel, and kerosene, which is even lighter than diesel fuel, is used. The oil which can be extracted and refined from Euglena is light, even in comparison with those of other plants and microalgae, making it very suitable as a jet fuel. In addition, petroleum is excavated from underground and burned, releasing CO2 which had originally been fixed in the ground and increasing its concentration in the atmosphere.
Conversely, while fuel produced from Euglena also releases CO2 when burned, it ultimately does not increase the concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere as Euglena grows by absorbing CO2 and conducting photosynthesis. In other words, it can be considered to be a recyclable fuel. Accordingly, using bio-jet fuel derived from Euglena in place of petroleum-based jet fuel enables us to continue flying airplanes as usual without increasing the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere, which is considered to be a cause of global warming.
How much do you want to spend on producing your bio-jet fuel?
We wish to produce our bio-jet fuel at a cost which users, i.e. airline companies, can deem acceptable in comparison with future jet fuel market prices.
Where do you grow Euglena?
We grow Euglena on Ishigaki Island in Okinawa Prefecture.
How much can your production facility in Ishigaki make?
It can produce up to 160 tonnes of powdered Euglena annually.
Is there a risk of production stoppages due to typhoons, etc.?
Taking into account the risk of temporary production stoppages, we maintain sufficient stockpiles of Euglena to ensure a stable supply during the term expected to be necessary to restore factory operations.
Why did you choose to be listed on the Tokyo Stock Exchange?
Our goals were to market ourselves more proactively, to secure funding for research and development, and to hire top researchers.
What kind of shareholder returns are you considering?
Because we are currently growing and are aiming to improve our return on capital through business investment and to maximize shareholder value by enhancing our corporate value, as well as to commercialize our biodiesel and jet fuel, we are using our capital to invest in research and development and are not planning on shareholder returns in the form of dividends at this time.
What kind of shareholder benefit program do you have?
Information on our shareholder benefit program may be viewed here.