Algae can provide a valuable source of high quality nutrition for humans and animals, according to Andrew Spicer, CEO of Algenuity, leaders in algal biology and industrial biotechnology. “There is considerable demand for nutritious, high protein micro-algae biomass for food and feed in Europe, and currently much of the short-fall is being met with imported biomass from Asia. The quality and stability of the supply chain is very poor, so there is a major opportunity here for the domestic industry,” explains Andrew, ahead of his involvement in a debate on the priorities of agri-tech investment at Agri-Tech East’s REAP conference next month.
Vegan alternative to animal protein
Having spearheaded the development of Algenuity – the Algal Biotech Division of Spicer Consulting – for almost a decade now, Andrew sees algal biomass as a growth area that will alleviate the dependency on intensive land use.
“Micro-algae are an incredibly versatile, fully vegan and gluten free protein source which also contains micronutrients, vitamins, antioxidants and healthy oils,” he says. “In addition to being best-known currently for use as a food supplement, micro-algae can be formulated into all sorts of food products, from soups to pastas to energy bars and smoothies in addition to be included as a healthy and functional ingredient within animal feeds.”
Algenuity have become the go-to problem solvers for ‘algal biotech’, as Andrew explains: “We have started working with some of the bigger algal producing companies in Europe to show them how they can increase profitability by improving the productivity of the organism and reducing their raw costs as well as accessing new opportunities.”
Opportunities in biomedical
The algal industry is looking beyond agriculture to find solutions in cosmetic, biomedical and other sectors too. “We are starting to develop other approaches to improve the output of desirable chemicals that are already natively produced by the algae,” he continues. “For example, the pigment that makes salmon go the nice pink colour is from an alga called Haematococcus pluvialis.”
Looking to the future, Andrew concludes: “It is a real growth area. Chlorella vulgaris, another strain we work with, is high in protein, has novel food status and is already being produced to quite a large scale globally – starting to satisfy ingredients for animal feed and even for human nutrition. “Microalgae is going to be one of the solutions for feeding the world – without being dependent on land.”
Andrew will be one of eight panellists in the REAP debate, which is a new feature of the conference this year. Producers, technologists, scientists and advisors will consider the question if it is cheaper to import food than produce our own should agri-tech investment focus on other, more lucrative, uses of land?
The Agri-Tech East REAP Conference is on Wednesday 7th November 2018, Wellcome Genome Campus Conference Centre, Hinxton, Cambridge, CB10 1RQ.