Feeding the World with Algae

Feeding the World with Algae

With an evaluation showing current food production levels will need to be raised by 50%, algae are now being added as a recommended source for feeding the world.

April 13, 2016
International

QA magazine has previously written about the projections that by the year 2050 we will not be able to feed the world’s population of an estimated 9.6 billion people without changing the way we produce and consume food. One of the solutions being provided is that of introducing and increasing the consumption of insects as food (entomophagy). With an evaluation showing current food production levels will need to be raised by 50%, algae are now being added as a recommended source for feeding the world.

To that end, Bühler and ETH Zurich (Swiss Federal Institute of Technology Zurich) have entered into a close cooperation “to create the basis for the industrial utilization of alternative sources of protein such as pulses, algae, and insects to ensure a sustainable supply of food and feed for humans and animals and to make them attractive for consumers,” said Bühler CTO Ian Roberts.

 In the medium to long term, the use of new raw materials is inevitable, with algae and insects especially standing out as high-grade sources of protein, the company noted. Microalgae such as Chlorella or Spirulina (Arthrospira) do not compete with existing farming land, grow quickly and take up little space. Their high-quality protein may be processed, for instance, into food and animal feeds. Whole algae and algae extracts are already available in the marketplace today. They are consumed mainly in Asian countries, but are also highly appreciated in the West by a small community of particularly health-conscious consumers. If algae-based products are to appeal to a broad mass of western consumers, they will need to be integrated in traditional foods without significantly changing their taste and texture. In addition to proteins, algae also contain valuable polyunsaturated fatty acids and color pigments.

 “The benefits of algae and insects are obvious. In designing integrated biorefineries for their cultivation and processing, it is important that we collaborate at an early stage with technology companies such as Bühler,” said Professor Mathys, explaining the motivation for the collaboration of ETH Zurich with the Uzwil-based technology group. Although a lot of questions regarding industrial-scale cultivation, extraction and processing of algae or insect proteins still remain to be answered, Bühler said, its process-engineering expertise could be put to use in such future processing and production systems. For instance, the group has already demonstrated that the most cost-efficient mechanical method for rupturing algae cells today is by agitator bead mills. This wet-grinding technology is also used for manufacturing printing inks or paints. It allows particularly gentle rupturing of the tough cell walls of algae for extracting and separating all the valuable constituents.

For more information about Bühler, visit http://www.buhlergroup.com/northamerica/en.