Biomass from algae
This biomass is a valuable resource in the European bio-based economy. It is currently used mainly by the food and chemical industry as raw material for the extraction of hydrocolloids and for human nutritional products. Over the last decade, the development of new algae-based applications and the rising interest to include high quality seaweeds in western diets increased the demand for algae biomass.
In Europe, the algae aquaculture is still at an early phase. The European algae production accounted for 1.14% of the worldwide biomass supply between 2006 and 2015 (FAO 2016). The European algae production sector is mainly based in Norway, France, Ireland, Iceland and the Russian Federation, accounting together for around 98% of the total European biomass supply between 2006 and 2015. The production is dominated by Norway, supplying more than half (65%) of the total European macroalgal biomass production in 2015. The dominant biomass production method in Europe remains the harvesting of wild stocks with Denmark being the only country with the algae production sector exclusively based on aquaculture.
About 472 tonnes dry weight of macroalgae were commercialized in Europe in 2013 from which a quarter were supplied by European producers (Organic monitor 2015). Microalgae biomass production in Europe is low but the commercial value of some species and applications are high with for example extracts of some species (e.g. Haematococcus pluvialis) being sold at a value of €125/ml (Camia et al., 2018).
Crucial role in bio-based sector and market perspectives
Algae are aquatic plants which don’t affect the land use and do not need specific and expensive cultivation practices other than for harvesting. Microalgae are cultivated in photo-bioreactors(PBR), as well as in open ponds. Their photosynthetic efficiency (6%) the highest among types of biomass (max 3-4%) and the CO2 absorption reaches 1,7 t CO2 per t of microalgae produced. The potential bio-oil production ranges from 3,800 up till 50,000 l/ha/year in the best climate conditions. However, it is well known that the algae cost remains too high to be competitive with woody biomass or oil crops, this mainly due to the high costs caused by cultivation energy consumption. Therefore, the cultivation practices have been studied in the past years with the target of reducing energy consumption and operation costs. Research activities at national and European level developed new strategies and technologies which contributed to decreasing the market cost pushing algae sector towards an industrial development at global level. Low cost material for PBR pipeline, low energy consumption harvesting and water agitating systems:
– Integration of microalgae reactors in large scale biorefineries (wastewater industry, biogas & pyrolysis plants)
– utilization of algae oil for diversified added value products (biofertilizers, biochemicals, additives)
– new advanced technologies for synthesis of gaseous and liquid transportation biofuels.
Biomass from microalgae and macroalgae is globally recognized as a source of chemical constituents with different applications, such as agri-horticultural sector, as human food and food ingredients, as nutraceuticals, cosmeceuticals, and pharmaceuticals. Algae biomass resources remains a concern with increasing environmental pressures conflicting with the growing demand. Current progress in algal biotechnology is driven by an increased demand for new sources of biomass due to several global challenges, new discoveries and technologies available as well as an increased global awareness of the many applications of algae. Algal diversity and complexity provides significant potential provided that shortages in suitable and safe biomass can be met, and consumer demands are matched by commercial investment in product development (Stengel and Connan, 2015).EUBIA is currently engaging with algae market opportunities and the benefits related to their integration in other biobased industry sector.
EUBIA has been actively working in three projects co-financed by the European Commission:
Furthermore, the European Biomass Industry Association is investigating and working on new projects focused on microalgae cultivation and their application as high quality biomass for different market sectors:
– Biomethane-Microalgae production integration with mixed residues in anaerobic digestion plants,
– New technologies for biofuels(biodiesel and bioethanol) production from micro and macro algae,
– Micro and macro algae application for high value bio-fertilizer production.
Stengel DB, and Connan S. (2015)Marine Algae: a Source of Biomass for Biotechnological Applications. Methods Mol Biol. 2015;1308:1-37. doi: 10.1007/978-1-4939-2684-8_1.