Microalgae Could Play Crucial Role in Circular Economy

  Women of Algae
Alg-Ad Swansea University

Swansea U. researchers are taking a circular economy industrial approach to working with microalgae. Photo: ALG-AD Research Group/Swansea University

In the U.K., new research at Swansea University suggests that microalgae could play a crucial role in successfully reusing food and farm waste on an industrial scale — and create thousands of jobs in the process.

A key aim of the ALG-AD project, led by the College of Science, is to investigate this circular economy process which sees nutrients being used to generate another resource of value, essentially creating wealth from waste.

Dr. Claudio Fuentes-Grünewald, lead author of the paper, said, “Implementation of circular approaches in industry, by minimizing waste and optimizing reuse of resources, is of critical environmental importance. Microalgal cultures are particularly adept at waste remediation and are also incredibly versatile in how the biomass produced can be processed and applied.”

So far, the ability of microalgae to solve environmental issues has only been demonstrated on a relatively small scale. Microalgae can grow and produce biomass in different ways depending on conditions and ALG-AD has successfully demonstrated a combination of two different growth modes on an industrial scale at its UK pilot facility at Langage AD, Plymouth, England.

Analysis of this biomass has revealed it is higher in protein than the commercially cultivated equivalent, and the algae also show interesting increases in carotenoids, molecules known for their health-boosting properties.

“Our work on ALG-AD has proved that microalgae can be used at scale to consistently produce a quality, sustainably cultivated biomass with multiple commercial applications,” said Dr. Fuentes-Grünewald.

“We believe this technology has the potential to remediate thousands of tons of digestate, without the risks of pollution linked to storage or returning this to land. This new circular economy industrial approach could ultimately not only produce large quantities of biomass for animal feed but also create thousands of new sustainable jobs.”

ALG-AD is a four-year Interreg NWE funded project which brings together scientists and engineers from 11 different partners in four countries across North West Europe.

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