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MICROALGAE PROTEIN INGREDIENTS FOR THE FOOD AND FEED OF THE FUTURE

Periodic Reporting for period 1 - ProFuture (MICROALGAE PROTEIN INGREDIENTS FOR THE FOOD AND FEED OF THE FUTURE)

Reporting period: 2019-10-01 to 2021-03-31

ProFuture addresses key challenges that today limit sustainable and profitable cultivation and use of microalgae biomass as a source of protein for the food industry as well as for livestock and fish farming.
ProFuture will strengthen the competitiveness, growth and interaction of the actors of the microalgae value-chain, including producers, processors, distributors and consumers, by demonstrating the potential of protein-rich microalgal biomass as a part of the new European bioeconomy. ProFuture will support smallholders and SMEs in adopting technological and organizational innovations for a sustainable and efficient production and processing as well as to comply with EU food standards.
The main purpose of ProFuture is to set the basis for market uptake of innovative, socially responsible and sustainable food and feed products, reformulated with protein-rich ingredients from microalgal biomasses and to demonstrate their social and economic benefits by validating the technical and economic feasibility of innovative technological solutions, prepare market uptake, determine consumer acceptance and disseminate project results to relevant stakeholders.
Progress in developing ingredients, foods and feeds using microalgae
Several innovative strategies have been developed and implemented to increase efficiency and reduce the cost of the final microalgae products, by:
- Selecting new strains of Chlorella vulgaris with advantageous combinations of amino acids to improve the nutritional profile of the microalgae biomass;
- Implementing new technology and strategies to reduce the carbon footprint (Direct Air Capture) and the energy consumption of the cultivation process (“off-the-grid” photo-bioreactor, low-cost cascade reactor and two-phase production system);
- Improving the efficiency of two cultivation techniques (mixotrophic and heterotrophic growth) for two microalgae strains (Galdiera sulphuraria and Chlorella vulgaris);
- Studying and optimizing the cultivation of microalgae with recycled water from previous microalgae cultivation, by-products from microalgae processing (pigments extracted from Spirulina) and side-streams from agri-food industries (insect frass).

Regarding the development of innovative ingredients and reformulated foods and feeds, the partners:
- Carried out a preliminary survey among food and feed producers to define the expected properties of the microalgae ingredients to be developed in the project.
- Published a research paper exploring the food and beverages containing algae ingredients launched in the EU market during the period 2015-2019.
- Assessed bead milling and spiral filter processing to improve protein solubilization and extraction from the raw microalgal biomass.
- Started exploring different technologies to dry the microalgal biomass (Agitated Thin Film Drying, Solar Drying and Spray Drying), and their effects on the quality and techno-functional properties of the final product.
- Started the reformulation of 5 types of food (pasta, vegetable soups and creams, vegan sausage, bread and snack bars) with added microalgae protein ingredients.
- Defined the biomass needs for each type of feed, as well as the experimental designs for the studies with poultry, piglets, fish and shrimps.
Progress in the social and environmental aspects
The social and environmental opportunities and constraints of the microalgae value chain were identified through different activities:
- Consumer studies were designed to identify the associations of consumers with food containing algae proteins
- An extensive big-data analysis was conducted to identify the main attitudes and feelings of online users towards the use of algae as an alternative source of protein.
- An online survey protocol aimed at consumers in different EU countries was designed to quantify the consumer preferences for various algae product attributes and to identify consumer segments that are most likely to accept these products.
- Four online workshops with stakeholders, representing the microalgae value chain from different EU countries, have been planned between June and September 2021 to explore the social prospective on the development of responsible microalgae value chains.
- A preliminary version of the life cycle analysis (LCA) of the microalgae value chain was discussed among partners and a model is now being developed to include the information provided by the partners.

Progress in market analysis and exploitation plan of microalgae value-chain
Different activities have been carried out to better understand the microalgae market and value chain:
- Interviews were conducted in seven EU countries to map and study the current microalgae value chain, to identify the different actors involved as well as to understand the logistical constraints for each different actor.
- A market analysis was carried out to track the partner’s progress in technology development, prototyping and product development as well as to define the exploitation strategy plan and positioning of the innovative ProFuture’s products in preliminary markets (Spain, Germany, Netherlands, Belgium, France, Italy, Estonia and Portugal);
- A preliminary regulatory assessment was done to identify the legal barriers of the EU microalgae market, as well as the specific requirements for the authorization of innovative microalgae-based ingredients as novel foods in the EU.
Main expected progress beyond the state-of-the-art:
i) increased efficiency and sustainability of the microalgal cultivation through the reduction of fresh water (-40 %) and energy consumption (-50 %).
ii) development of protein rich ingredients (single-cell & protein isolates) from 4 microalgae species by implementing mild, sustainable & affordable processing technologies at TRL6/7.
iii) boost the market uptake of nutritive and tasty food/feed products reformulated with single-cell proteins and protein isolates by developing 6 types of tasty food and 4 types of innovative feeds.
iv) generation of scientific data supporting the pre-market approval as novel foods of innovative protein-rich ingredient (single-cell & protein isolates) from N. oceanica, Spirulina, T. chui and C. vulgaris.
v) validation of technologies and strategies to make the microalgae value chain more efficient, sustainable and competitive.
vi) development of an easy-to-use decisions support tool to assess the sustainability and the environmental impact all through the microalgae value chain.

Potential impacts are:
i) far-reaching progress in processing and producing high-quality proteins for food and feed applications from microalgae, moving available solutions up to pre-industrial level.
ii) new market opportunities for novel products (ingredients, foods, feeds), derived from microalgae.
iii) future-proofed microalgae supply chains based on the principles of diversity, sustainability and resilience.
iv) increased trust and consumer acceptability for ingredients and derived from microalgae.
v) Innovative sustainable food and feed microalgae-based products which significantly reduce their footprint in terms of land use, greenhouse gas emissions, and energy and water consumption.
Project Leaflet