“ProFuture”: an EU-funded project on microalgal proteins for the food and feed of the future
Microalgae are tiny microorganisms that carry out photosynthesis and fix CO2 by releasing oxygen. They are rich in valuable nutrients (proteins, essential fatty acids, minerals, vitamin B12), non-competitive for agricultural land and (fresh) water, and are significantly more productive than agricultural plants. However, they are a “niche crop” in the food and feed industry. The EU-funded project ProFuture has the goal of promoting the future use of microalgae in the food and animal feed industry. How this goal can be reached, what obstacles need to be overcome and how the future use of algae could look like will be addressed in this article.
CULTIVATING SUSTAINABLE AND NUTRITIOUS MICROALGAE
Microalgae are the ancestors of higher plants. They are tiny, often single-celled microorganisms that can grow photoautotrophic by use of sunlight, nitrogen and CO2. They can also be grown in fresh, brackish, or marine water in a species-dependent manner. The systems used for microalgae cultivation are usually of two types: closed photobioreactors (no interaction with the environment) and open ponds in which, on the contrary, the culture is exposed to the environment. Closed photobioreactor systems can be tubular, flat‐plat, or vertical columns. In all systems the light is supplied either directly by the sun or via artificial sources such as LEDs (1).
Four major modes of microalgae cultivation can be adopted, i.e., photo-autotrophic, heterotrophic, photo-heterotrophic, and mixotrophic. In photo-autotrophy, microalgae are grown by fixing dissolved CO2 and absorbing solar energy for photosynthesis. Heterotrophic species use organic compounds in the growth medium as carbon and energy sources and do not need light as additional energy source. In photo-heterotrophy, cells use light as an energy supplie ...