Cyanotech - which is now a $25m turnover company with net profits of around $3.6m - was co-founded in the early 1980s in Seattle by executive vice president and chief science officer Dr Gerry Cysewski, an assistant professor at the University of California, Santa Barbara, who received a grant from the National Science Foundation to develop a culture system for blue-green algae.
The plan was to set up spirulina production in Nevada, says Cyseswki.
“People were just starting to get interested in spirulina and I thought I could produce a product that was far superior to what was on the market by using modern engineering.”
However, after hearing that the Natural Energy Laboratory (NEL) of Hawaii was looking for new tenants at its Kona-Kailua facility, he jumped on a plane halfway across the Pacific and never looked back, breaking ground on a new microalgae farm at the NEL in 1984, despite the steep costs of building on volcanic rock (flattening lava is not cheap).
But what’s so special about Hawaii (apart from the obvious attractions of working somewhere so beautiful)?
The biggest draw is the low rainfall and year-round sunlight, which means you can produce for 12 months a year, says Cysewski.
The temperature is also fairly consistent throughout the year while tenants at the coastal facility also have access to cold, mineral-rich seawater from a depth of 2,000 feet for use in the growing and drying process.