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Algae and climate

Published on: Mon, 09/05/2022 - 06:58
Table of Contents
    Can producing and consuming more algae make a significant contribution to the achievement of our climate goals?

    Context

    On 11 December 2019, the European Commission (EC) announced the European Green Deal to transform the European Union (EU) into the first climate neutral region of the world. The European Green Deal provides an action plan to :(1) boost the efficient use of resources by moving to a clean and circular economy; (2) cut pollution and pressures on ecosystems (by decoupling economic growth from resource use); and (3) restore biodiversity by sustainably managing and preserving resources and ecosystems. The EU Green Deal builds on a series of sector and policy strategies that will support a just and inclusive ecological and climate transition. Building on a momentum set prior to the adoption of the Green Deal, increasing attention is given to the role marine ecosystems and the blue economy can play, and on opportunities they can provide as a source of resources.

    In particular, major innovations are taking place in the field of Algae cultivation can contribute both macroalgae, traditionally harvested from wild stocks on European coasts and cultivated today at sea or inland, and microalgae produced in open ponds or closed systems such as photobioreactors or fermenters. Algae occupy today a production niche in Europe with significant potential in algae production and utilisation that remains to be seized for a wide range of applications including for human consumption and animal feed, biofertilizers , nutraceuticals, cosmetics, biomaterials and biofuel. Still many knowledge gaps remain on algae cultivation and utilisation, including:

    • The role algae cultivation can play in contributing to the Green Deal objectives;
    • Key constraints on algae cultivation in Europe and leverages to set to ensure its potential is fully seized.

    A study: what for?

    In this context, the European Commission has launched as study to provide sound and up-to-date knowledge on the potential impacts of scaling up the production of marine algae through aquaculture in the EU and its impacts. The main questions the study will address include:

    • What are the biomass and nutritional yields algae can provide, depending on the types of algae and the production technologies applied in marine waters and inland?
    • What are the costs and greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions of different types of algae production technologies?  How do they compare with the costs and GHG emissions of land-based crops (e.g. soya) with similar nutritional properties? And under which conditions would algae production (in particular inland systems fed by flue gases or wastewater nutrients) be competitive?
    • What could be the potential total algae biomass production amount in Europe, as well as the resulting carbon dioxide captured (seaweed cultivation) and input (in microalgae cultivation - nutrients, freshwater and land) in particular uses? Which share of (today and future) animal and fish feed requirements could be met by algae production? What are the main constraints (e.g. low production volumes, high production costs, etc) on increasing the proportion of algae in recognised animal feed.

    How will the study be implemented?

    The study builds on the collection of a wide range of technical, environmental and economic data related to different algae production technologies at different development stages (from pilot projects to large scale implementation in Europe and beyond). Information from the scientific and grey literature will be complemented by interviews with experts and stakeholders of the algae value chains – from its production to its final use in particular as a component of livestock feed. The evidence collected will be organised in a database and analysed for providing answers to the questions above, identifying key knowledge gaps requiring research beyond the scope of the present study.

    The study will combine different scales of analysis: (a) collating and combining information for characterising individual algae production technologies; (b) analysing the potential for algae production in selected countries (namely: Denmark, France and the Netherlands) accounting for the availability of resources as well as possible regulatory, technical and economic constraints and solutions; (c) investigating the total potential algae production, its role in meeting animal’s feed requirements and its impact on GHG emissions at the European scale.

    A stakeholder workshop will be organised within the frame of the study for sharing and discussing preliminary results and their policy implications. Feedbacks and input from workshop participants will contribute to the consolidation of the study’s algae knowledge base and of its final results.

    The study has been launched in December 2021 and has a 12-month duration. It is implemented by ACTeon (France – coordinator), the universities of Arhus and Copenhagen (Denmark), and TNO (the Netherlands Organisation for Applied Scientific Research).

    How can you contribute?

    As operator of an algae production pilot, manager of algae production sites or a company specialised in algae production for different uses, expert involved in studies assessing the costs and GHG emissions of algae production or working on the integration of algae into livestock feeds… you might:

    • have knowledge, information and studies relevant to the study;
    • participate in the workshop that will be organised to share and consolidate the evidence collated, and to identify knowledge gaps that require specific attention;
    • organise workshops or events on topics relevant to the study.

    All three – and other contributions you could think of – are of clear interest to the team carrying out the study. Please contact them (see below) to see how best you can contribute.