EU Science Hub

Brief on algae biomass production

Abstract: 

This brief on algae biomass production is one out of a series of briefs from the EC's Knowledge Centre for Bioeconomy which intend to provide independent evidence for EU policy in this field. The following are the key results: 1. Macroalgae are harvested from wild stocks or produced in aquaculture systems, while microalgae are cultivated in open (e.g. raceway ponds) or closed (photobioreactors) systems (see section 1). 2. Annual macroalgae biomass production has increased worldwide since 1950, reaching 32.67 Mt in 2016 (see section 2). Global production is mainly based on aquaculture cultivation (97% in 2016). 3. Algae biomass production in the EU contributed only 0.28% to global production in 2016, whilst production in Norway and Iceland contributed an additional 0.57% (see section 2). In contrast with the global production pattern, the harvesting of wild stocks supplies most of the macroalgae biomass in Europe (98% in 2016). 4. Production plants of algae biomass in the EU are located in 15 of the Member States, in most of which both macro- and microalgae production units operate. Although the harvesting of wild stocks is the main biomass production method for macroalgae in terms of volume, the number of aquaculture plants has increased in recent years and already represents an important part of the macroalgae production units in Europe (see section 3). 5. The abundance of several commercially exploited species in Europe has already decreased in some regions due to multiple stressors such as global warming, herbivory, excessive harvesting, a decline in water quality and the introduction of non-native species (see section 4). Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that algae resources are exploited in a sustainable way.