Developing Urban, Algae-Based, Protein Production

Protein Production

Dr. Iris Haberkorn at the algae bioreactor. Credit: Prof. Alexander Mathys and

I​n Singapore, to enhance food security, the “30 by 30” goal calls for an increase in capability and capacity to grow 30 per cent of total food needs locally and sustainably by 2030. In the land-scarce city state, meeting this goal through traditional food and protein production methods alone will be challenging.

The “Urban Microalgae-Based Protein Production” project sets out to establish a resilient and sustainable agri-food platform for microalgae-based food products. Taking a whole value-chain approach, the project combines emerging microalgae concepts with technological and process innovation, with a goal of developing a tangible food product concept.

While meat and seafood are viable sources of protein, the resource-intensive nature of their production continues to put a strain on the environment. In recent years, meat and seafood alternatives have become more available. However, the commonly used key ingredients of soy or wheat come with significant needs for arable land. 

Microalgae, on the other hand, have a very low demand for land, among other advantages. From the perspective of nutrition, microalgae-based food products are good sources of protein and vitamins, with well-balanced amino acid profiles and good ratios of polyunsaturated fatty acids. What is needed to make microalgae-based protein more commercially viable are innovative processes to improve the supply-chain eco-efficiency, as well as an R&D platform for food concept development. 

Novel Proteins for Food and Feed project

This whole-value chain approach brings together expertise from the Novel Proteins for Food and Feed project at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology (ETH) Zurich’s World Food Systems Centre, as well as the Department of Food Science and Technology at the National University of Singapore (NUS) and the Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation at Agency for Science Technology and Research (A*STAR).

Ultimately, consumer acceptance of the microalgae-​based food concept depends on whether the cost, nutrition, taste, texture, and smell are sufficiently tailored to the preferences of the local market. For those reasons the team is taking a reverse engineering approach, and co-​creating food concepts by incorporating consumer insights as well as collaborating with relevant partners.

The partners include Swiss and Singapore-​based food producers Nestlé and ingredient processing companies including Bühler, Givaudan, Planted Foods, and Sophie’s Bionutrients. Additionally, the Singapore Food Agency is playing advisory role and providing feedback on the project’s R&D direction and decisions.

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