By William Moomaw and Asaf Tzachor
Our planet faces a growing food crisis. According to the United Nations, more than 800 million people are regularly undernourished. By 2050, an additional 2 to 3 billion new guests will join the planetary dinner table.
Meeting this challenge involves not only providing sufficient calories for every person, but also assuring a balanced diet that includes the protein and nutrients that are essential to good health. In a newly published study, we explain how marine microalgae could be a sustainable solution for solving global macro-hunger.
Problems with Current Food Production Systems
The current Western diet requires vast amounts of land, water and energy, is heavily polluting and is a major contributor to climate change. Providing nutritious food for an ever-growing global population with increasing per capita demand is pushing our current food production system beyond its limits.
Livestock production is replacing forests with cropland and pastures for meat and animal feed. Nitrogen and phosphorous fertilizer used to grow feed grain and other crops is degrading soils and creating biological dead zones in some 400 estuaries around the world.
Fish are an important source of omega-3 fatty acids and essential amino acids that make up our proteins. However, eating fish has some downsides. They can concentrate heavy metals and toxic organic chemicals in their tissues and pass them on to us. Furthermore, most ocean fisheries are overfished or at maximum production.
A Chilean fishing vessel nets some 400 tons of mackerel. NOAA
Aquaculture is producing a growing share of world seafood. But fish farms can have serious environmental impacts, including water pollution, disease transmission to wild fish and habitat destruction. Demand for small ocean fish to feed those raised on farms is depleting wild stocks.
An Alternative Approach: Cutting Out the "Middle Fish"
In our paper, we propose an alternative solution: commercial production of marine microalgae as a staple human food and feed for animals and farmed fish. These tiny organisms are the ultimate source of omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids that humans need in our diets, and which many of us get by eating fish. But fish are merely aquatic intermediaries in the nutrition business. We can feed the world more efficiently by "cutting out the middle fish."
Microalgae are a nearly untapped resource, and are found in both freshwater and marine aquatic systems. Although they are only few micrometers in size, they produce amino acids, fatty acids, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, polymers and carbohydrates.
For example, the omega-3 rich microalgae Nannochloropsis oculata, or simply Nanno, is a promising potential source of high-nutrient food and feed. It is 40 percent protein by dry weight, of which one-third contains essential amino acids, and 6 percent EPA omega-3 essential fatty acid in a highly bioavailable form.
Only a handful of algal species are used commercially now, but hundreds of strains have the potential to become food and feed sources. Microalgae are currently used as a food ingredient, a food supplement and as aquafeed for fish.
Microalgae are commercially cultivated using several methods that have a range of sustainability footprints. The first is an aerobically fermented system, where cultivation is performed in dark, mixing vessels using sugar as the main energy source for the algae. Algae may also be cultivated in open ponds, using either fresh- or saltwater, carbon dioxide and sunlight. Alternatively, they may be grown in brackish water or seawater in closed, transparent tubes called photobioreactors.
Nanno is currently being grown at a commercial scale using brackish water in outdoor ponds with added carbon dioxide in Texas, and in photobioreactors using seawater and carbon dioxide at a geothermal power station in Iceland. Here sunlight is replaced by efficient LED lights powered by inexpensive, zero-polluting renewable electricity from the power plant.
Photobioreactors require the least amount of water and fertile land. These reactors are like LEGO blocks that can be stacked vertically. Since it is a closed system, this approach minimizes loss of water through evaporation.
One sustainability metric for comparing protein production from animals, plants and marine algae is the amount of land and water needed to produce an equal quantity of essential amino acids from each type of food. We calculate that producing one kilogram of beef-sourced essential amino acids requires 148,000 liters of freshwater and 125 square meters of fertile land. In contrast, producing the same amount from Nanno raised in an open pond with brackish water requires only 20 liters of freshwater and 1.6 square meters of nonfertile land.
Land and water requirements for the production of essential amino acids from various sources: freshwater usage and annual land productivity. Industrial Biotechnology, CC BY-ND
Counterintuitively, some plant protein requires very large amounts of land and water, even relative to some meat sources. For example, peas require about twice as much freshwater and 6.5 times the footprint of fertile land to produce the same amount of essential amino acids as chicken.
Turning Microalgae Into Food Products
How does one eat Nanno? Currently it comes as a soft gel capsule of marine microalgae oil, marketed as an alternative to krill or fish oil as a daily source for omega-3's. In powdered form, whole algae or algae extract could serve as an ingredient in health bars, sports snacks or pasta. Whole algae, such as Spirulina and Chlorella, are already commercially viable and have entered the market, along with other algae-based products such as algal tea and algal flour.
In its current form Nanno can be used as a protein and fatty acid supplement to improve the nutritional level of undernourished people around the world, and as feed for farmed fish and livestock. Most algae-based products are marketed in the U.S. as dietary supplements, but we believe the time has arrived to introduce algae-based foods to the dining table.
A number of companies already offer innovative alternative meat products, which have the potential to become large-scale food sources with nutritional content and taste comparable to meat. But products based on potatoes, wheat and soy still consume large amounts of freshwater and arable land, with the same environmental disadvantages of current agriculture.
In aquatic ecosystems, such as the Great Lakes, microalgae form the base of food webs.Michigan Sea Grant
By our calculation, pea- and soy-based alternative meat products with similar nutritional amino acid value to Nanno could be produced using 6.4 times less freshwater than beef, but would require 2.2 times more fertile land. In contrast, using marine microalgae reduces land usage by over 75-fold, since no fertile land is required, and lowers freshwater usage by a factor of 7,400.
Our paper describes a sustainable system for cultivating microalgae that is economically viable. The next step is persuading food scientists to utilize it as the basis for alternative meat products. Chefs and connoisseurs, gastronomes and gourmands, consumers and critics can all help the planet by taking part in a global transition to algae-burgers.
Isaac Berzin, founder and CTO of Algaennovation, contributed to this article.
William Moomaw is professor of International Environmental Policy at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, Tufts University, where he is the founding director of the Center for International Environment and Resource Policy, the Tufts Climate Initiative and co-founder of the Global Development and Environment Institute.
Asaf Tzachor is a doctoral candidate of Science, Technology and Policy at University College London, and Research Scholar at Columbia University in the City of New York.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Wisdom the mōlī, or Laysan albatross, is the oldest wild bird known to science at the age of at least 70. She is also, as of February 1, a new mother.
<div id="dadb2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="aa2ad8cb566c9b4b6d2df2693669f6f9"><blockquote class="twitter-tweet twitter-custom-tweet" data-twitter-tweet-id="1357796504740761602" data-partner="rebelmouse"><div style="margin:1em 0">🚨Cute baby alert! Wisdom's chick has hatched!!! 🐣😍 Wisdom, a mōlī (Laysan albatross) and world’s oldest known, ban… https://t.co/Nco050ztBA</div> — USFWS Pacific Region (@USFWS Pacific Region)<a href="https://twitter.com/USFWSPacific/statuses/1357796504740761602">1612558888.0</a></blockquote></div>
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Winter is supposed to be the best season for wind power – the winds are stronger, and since air density increases as the temperature drops, more force is pushing on the blades. But winter also comes with a problem: freezing weather.
Comparing rime ice and glaze ice shows how each changes the texture of the blade. Gao, Liu and Hu, 2021, CC BY-ND
Ice buildup changes air flow around the turbine blade, which can slow it down. The top photos show ice forming after 10 minutes at different temperatures in the Wind Research Tunnel. The lower measurements show airflow separation as ice accumulates. Icing Research Tunnel of Iowa State University, CC BY-ND
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theDOCK aims to innovate the Israeli maritime sector. Pexels<p>The UN hopes that new investments in ocean science and technology will help turn the tide for the oceans. As such, this year kicked off the <a href="https://www.oceandecade.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">United Nations Decade of Ocean Science for Sustainable Development (2021-2030)</a> to galvanize massive support for the blue economy.</p><p>According to the World Bank, the blue economy is the "sustainable use of ocean resources for economic growth, improved livelihoods, and jobs while preserving the health of ocean ecosystem," <a href="https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0160412019338255#b0245" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Science Direct</a> reported. It represents this new sector for investments and innovations that work in tandem with the oceans rather than in exploitation of them.</p><p>As recently as Aug. 2020, <a href="https://www.reutersevents.com/sustainability/esg-investors-slow-make-waves-25tn-ocean-economy" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Reuters</a> noted that ESG Investors, those looking to invest in opportunities that have a positive impact in environmental, social and governance (ESG) issues, have been interested in "blue finance" but slow to invest.</p><p>"It is a hugely under-invested economic opportunity that is crucial to the way we have to address living on one planet," Simon Dent, director of blue investments at Mirova Natural Capital, told Reuters.</p><p>Even with slow investment, the blue economy is still expected to expand at twice the rate of the mainstream economy by 2030, Reuters reported. It already contributes $2.5tn a year in economic output, the report noted.</p><p>Current, upward <a href="https://www.ecowatch.com/-innovation-blue-economy-2646147405.html" target="_self">shifts in blue economy investments are being driven by innovation</a>, a trend the UN hopes will continue globally for the benefit of all oceans and people.</p><p>In Israel, this push has successfully translated into investment in and innovation of global ports, shipping, logistics and offshore sectors. The "Startup Nation," as Israel is often called, has seen its maritime tech ecosystem grow "significantly" in recent years and expects that growth to "accelerate dramatically," <a href="https://itrade.gov.il/belgium-english/how-israel-is-becoming-a-port-of-call-for-maritime-innovation/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">iTrade</a> reported.</p><p>Driving this wave of momentum has been rising Israeli venture capital hub <a href="https://www.thedockinnovation.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">theDOCK</a>. Founded by Israeli Navy veterans in 2017, theDOCK works with early-stage companies in the maritime space to bring their solutions to market. The hub's pioneering efforts ignited Israel's maritime technology sector, and now, with their new fund, theDOCK is motivating these high-tech solutions to also address ESG criteria.</p><p>"While ESG has always been on theDOCK's agenda, this theme has become even more of a priority," Nir Gartzman, theDOCK's managing partner, told EcoWatch. "80 percent of the startups in our portfolio (for theDOCK's Navigator II fund) will have a primary or secondary contribution to environmental, social and governance (ESG) criteria."</p><p>In a company presentation, theDOCK called contribution to the ESG agenda a "hot discussion topic" for traditional players in the space and their boards, many of whom are looking to adopt new technologies with a positive impact on the planet. The focus is on reducing carbon emissions and protecting the environment, the presentation outlines. As such, theDOCK also explicitly screens candidate investments by ESG criteria as well.</p><p>Within the maritime space, environmental innovations could include measures like increased fuel and energy efficiency, better monitoring of potential pollution sources, improved waste and air emissions management and processing of marine debris/trash into reusable materials, theDOCK's presentation noted.</p>
theDOCK team includes (left to right) Michal Hendel-Sufa, Head of Alliances, Noa Schuman, CMO, Nir Gartzman, Co-Founder & Managing Partner, and Hannan Carmeli, Co-Founder & Managing Partner. Dudu Koren<p>theDOCK's own portfolio includes companies like Orca AI, which uses an intelligent collision avoidance system to reduce the probability of oil or fuel spills, AiDock, which eliminates the use of paper by automating the customs clearance process, and DockTech, which uses depth "crowdsourcing" data to map riverbeds in real-time and optimize cargo loading, thereby reducing trips and fuel usage while also avoiding groundings.</p><p>"Oceans are a big opportunity primarily because they are just that – big!" theDOCK's Chief Marketing Officer Noa Schuman summarized. "As such, the magnitude of their criticality to the global ecosystem, the magnitude of pollution risk and the steps needed to overcome those challenges – are all huge."</p><p>There is hope that this wave of interest and investment in environmentally-positive maritime technologies will accelerate the blue economy and ESG investing even further, in Israel and beyond.</p>
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