The projected growth of the planet’s population over the next half-century means global food production is expected to increase by at least 50%. We are also all being encouraged to reduce consumption of meat protein to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and deforestation. New sources of protein are therefore a top priority, and microalgae are strong contenders. Companies such as Nestlé are already researching microalgae as an alternative source of protein, both as animal feed and food for humans.
While the microalgal production industry is still in its infancy, the ability to produce a new source of protein without the issues associated with meat and soya is very attractive. Furthermore, being able to cultivate microalgae close to where they will be used by farmers in animal feed offers another distinct advantage.
A big challenge for our European project has been to test this technology for development at full working scale. We have therefore worked directly with the AD industry as it processes food and farm waste, providing us with industrially produced nitrogen (in digestate) to cultivate our microalgae.
In the UK, a pilot “algae-AD” facility at an AD company sited next to Langage Dairy Farm has been built. Langage-AD has the capacity to process 20,000 tons of food waste a year, producing biomethane that generates heat and electricity. The researchers were provided with a large, heated greenhouse situated right next to where the waste is processed. This was the ideal location for the “algal photobioreactor”, a series of vertical see-through tubes in which microalgae are grown in an aqueous medium containing nutrients that are exposed to both daylight and artificial light.
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