There is no question that global food security is among the major challenges this generation must face sooner rather than later. U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry recently mapped out the problem in a speech in Italy: world food production must increase by 60% before 2050; food is not produced where it is most needed; nearly one-third of world fish stocks are over-exploited; extreme weather made worse by climate change is degrading agricultural zones around the world.
These pressures make it clear we not only need more food—we need better food.
Algae: the sustainable crop
Algae, among the most efficient photosynthetic organisms on the planet, are fast becoming one of those more perfect foods. Algae are more nutritious, grow faster, grow almost anywhere, use less water and have lower carbon footprints than any other crop.
Algae can be cultivated for human food, and they can also be grown as a feed supplement for animals and fish. In the case of feeds alone:
- They have less than 10% the carbon footprint of conventional feeds
- They use less than 10% if the land requirements of traditional feeds
- They have less than 20% the water impact of traditional feeds
At the recent Algae Biomass Summit in Washington, DC hundreds of technology innovators discussed the benefits that large-scale algae production could bring to the world’s food system. Martin Sabarsky, CEO of Cellana, presented this slide at the Summit that compares algae’s resource impact with other agricultural products:
See that “CCU” in algae’s box under the carbon emissions column? That’s Carbon Capture and Utilization; unlike other agricultural activities, algae can be consumers of carbon emissions, and so their net impact on the climate problem can actually be positive.
Algae cultivation is superior on every other mark as well.
Algae in your supermarket
Algae are also positioned to succeed in the marketplace.
Studies have already shown that feeds based on algae can meet and exceed the performance of traditional feed formulations.
For human consumption, new algae products are hitting shelves that don’t look at all like the kelp chips you find in the supermarket–although those have health benefits far superior to the spinach and kale you might be buying now.
Solazyme recently introduced an algae-derived cooking oil with a mild flavor profile, high cooking temperature and an insanely high ratio of monounsaturated fats (those are the hearty-healthy kind most of us need to eat more of).
Dr. Peter Licari, Chief Technology Officer at Solazyme offered this comparison of the company’s algae-derived AlgaWise Ultra Omega-9 oil to other cooking oils:
Many other members of the Algae Biomass Organization are developing solutions to food security challenges. This includes algae-derived foods, nutritional supplements, soaps, fertilizers and water treatment systems.
Bottom line: New technologies are being developed that could make algae part of a second green revolution.
Algae have a role to play in our food future. The question is, how soon can we make it happen?