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THE FUTURE OF FOOD: Disrupting protein production with microalgae

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Lab-grown algae: the future of food

AFactory has developed a novel technology that allows for mass production of an environmentally friendly, nutritious plant-based protein.

Food and Natural Resources

By 2050, the global population is expected to grow to almost 10 billion. That’s a lot of mouths to feed. Against a backdrop of a changing climate and unstable political systems, food security is an emerging and critical concern for Europe and beyond. Developing new food sources is a promising route to securing adequate supplies. Future food must be environmentally-friendly, safe and nutritious. Innovative start-ups are beginning to change the way we think about food, and how it can be harvested. The AFactory project has been developing technology to create plant-based protein en masse. The French start-up Kyanos has been working away in its laboratory perfecting the technology for a large-scale protein production process called Cyclotrophy, which grows microalgae. “This industrial way of producing plant-based protein allows unprecedented yields, cost effectiveness and health safety conditions while catering for the growing market expectations for healthy, environmentally friendly products,” says Vinh Ly, CEO and founder of Kyanos and AFactory project coordinator. Thanks to Horizon 2020 funding, the first products are already heading to market, and now scaling up is the next priority.

Greener, cleaner protein

This novel food avoids many of the harmful effects caused by other protein production. “No need for synthetic fertilisers, no agricultural soil depletion, no greenhouse gases, no contamination and an unlimited supply potential to meet the food industry requirements,” says Ly. The patented Cyclotrophy technology works by creating the optimum solution for algae to grow in. Usually, the most efficient plant production processes happen in sterile environments, which means they are difficult to scale. Otherwise, contaminants develop, compete for nutrients and take over the microalgae. “Our process gets rid of that by preselecting contaminants and continuously removing them from the culture medium,” says Ly. Once removed, they are broken down and reinjected in the culture medium to feed the other microalgae – creating a virtuous cycle of growth.

Taste of success

The AFactory team were very surprised to find some initial positive effects on mental acuity. “We have seen an increase in neuronal activity of 10 % with our microalgae and also very specifically some interesting developments for neurodegenerative diseases,” says Ly. The product is also safe to eat as all the harmful contaminants are eliminated. “If you had to taste algae, I would say taste ours!”

The growth of an idea

The idea for using algae as a food came upon Ly when he was working for another European company. “I used to be an engineer at Airbus, and we were looking into new ways of developing biofuel. Microalgae showed a huge potential and I developed a passion for it. As I studied the idea, I found that the use of microalgae could also go beyond that and be used as healthy food – with multiple health benefits,” Ly explains. The team are proud to have sold the first batch of algae they developed completely in-house. “It was said that it was impossible to grow it in a controlled environment – 4 years after creating the company, we did it.” Currently the algae is being sold to customers, but they can’t create it fast enough to satisfy the rampant consumer demand. Says Ly: “We have raving reviews from our customers and we are doing our best to satisfy them. Next step – more production capability!”

Keywords

AFactory, microalgae, food, future, develop, taste, food security, contaminants

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