Many of the basic ingredients found in processed foods, animal feed, and hair and beauty products – such as soy protein and plant-sourced antioxidants – are often imported into the EU from overseas. The manufacture of such ingredients frequently produces hazardous chemicals, uses a large volume of water, and generates high levels of pollutants and greenhouse gases. Research shows that algae could be used as a highly sustainable feedstock to supply alternative ingredients to a variety of industries. BIOSEA, a project funded by the Bio-based industries Joint Undertaking (BBI JU) under the EU’s Horizon 2020 programme, is working on putting this idea into practice. BIOSEA partners, which include both research organisations and industrial partners, are seeking innovative ways to grow algae and microalgae in bioreactors and in Europe’s open seas. They aim to create more eco-friendly, cost-effective substitutes for a range of conventional product ingredients.
Their work has resulted in a range of replacement ingredients sourced from microalgae (Spirulina platensis and Nannochloropsis sp.) and macroalgae (Ulva ohnoi and Saccharina latissima), including proteins, fatty acids, carbohydrates, carotenoids and lipids.
For example, the project has proposed replacing soy protein with Spirulina platensis protein for veggie burgers, suggested swapping fish plasma with algal proteins in animal feed, and has developed antioxidants and other ingredients from algae that could be used in cosmetic products.
‘During the project, we’ve optimised existing patented cultivation methods for growing microalgae in photobioreactors and macroalgae on advanced textile layers in open sea farms,’ says project coordinator Simona Moldovan of the Textile Industry Research Association in Spain.
‘We’ve tailored these cultivation methods to the selected strains of algae – focusing on increasing the yields of ingredients of interest – by modifying nutrient inputs, cultivation conditions, and the parameters and timing of seeding and harvesting.’
Nothing left behind
Now nearing project conclusion, BIOSEA researchers have spearheaded a zero-waste approach, aiming for tailored extraction on a ‘cascading’ basis, so that each refining stage produces new, useful products and nothing is discarded. Reagents and chemicals used by the project team have also been carefully selected for maximum sustainability.
First cultivated in the laboratory, the two microalgae have been scaled up to pilot scale photobioreactors and have produced the necessary quantities for subsequent extraction and formulation.
The macroalgae U. ohnoi has been cultivated in laboratory-based photobioreactors and is now also being cultivated outside in cages. The other macroalgae, S. latissima, is being grown in outdoor European sea farms employing the 3D textile layer’s patented technology. This new approach is replacing conventional 2D rope cultivation, offering a larger cultivation surface and therefore a greater yield.
The BIOSEA team have already identified some added value in their algal products, such as ingredients that have an antimicrobial effect, provide protection against ultraviolet damage, and offer fat-reduction and antioxidant properties.
‘This project has the potential for a huge social impact, in terms of algae-based product awareness and greater acceptance for industrial applications,’ says Moldovan. ‘Focusing on cost reduction, our main aim is to achieve prices for our products that are comparable with their equivalents on the market. This project is the first step on the road to further industrialisation.’
BIOSEA’s industrial partners have developed their own technologies in parallel, including methodology to optimise algal biomass production and for the extraction of tailored ingredients. The project team is confident that there are plenty of opportunities for further market exploitation in a range of sectors.