Sustainable and innovative algae products: Bridging the gap to a circular economy
AlgaeProBANOS, a new €12 M EU-funded initiative, is spearheading the acceleration of innovative product development and market access for sustainable algae solutions in the Baltic and North Sea and beyond.
In recent years, there has been a growing interest in micro- and macroalgae in Europe as their role as alternative protein and other nutrient sources is immense. Various initiatives, such as the Algae Initiative, Ocean Mission BANOS lighthouse, and the engagement of European industry, consumers, and influencers, have highlighted the potential of this industry. Despite this, there are still several challenges that must be addressed to unlock the full potential of the algae industry, such as biomass supply, high production costs, limited knowledge of markets and consumers, limited knowledge of risks and impacts, and fragmented governance framework, among others.
Forging a knowledge powerhouse
AlgaeProBANOS (APB) brings together universities and research institutes with start-ups, SMEs and industry members as well as innovation, training and entrepreneurship experts, representing ten countries from across the Baltic and North Sea region with the shared goal of demonstrating market accessibility and presence of sustainable and innovative algae products and solutions in the Baltic and North Sea (BANOS) regions. The 26 partners bring a wealth of expertise and resources to the table to support the objectives of Mission Ocean while positioning Europe’s algae industry to thrive.
The AlgaeProBANOS project, funded by the European Union’s Horizon Europe programme, will directly contribute to the Blue Mission BANOS lighthouse initiative, which engages and supports stakeholders across the Baltic and North Sea to reach a carbon-neutral and circular blue economy. The primary objective of AlgaeProBANOS in industrial processes is to establish a dependable and sustainable supply of algae biomass that meets the industry‘s quality and quantity standards, while simultaneously protecting the health of ocean ecosystems. In terms of economic development, APB aims to reinforce the appeal, resilience, and efficiency of algae products, thereby reducing risks and attracting investments for scaling up. Furthermore, APB seeks to enhance the social acceptance and legitimacy of algae products, ensuring widespread adoption of these products and practices through social licenses. By achieving these objectives, APB endeavors to create a thriving and sustainable algae industry that benefits both the environment and society at large.
During the 48-month project, AlgaeProBANOS will support six business cases to bring eight products to the market from sustainable and circular micro- and macroalgae sources. These products will target important markets such as food, aqua feed, cosmetics, nutraceuticals, textiles, agriculture, and many more.
A monitoring strategy for wild harvest will contribute to sustainability
As the EU algae sector expands, it is crucial to increase the sustainability, security, and quality control of algae supply while also addressing climate change. In 2019, only 0.8% of global production came from the EU, with 96% of it relying on wild harvest rather than cultivated methods commonly used in Asia. Current harvesting practices lack consideration for environmental impact, overharvesting prevention, and ecological damage mitigation. APB aims to tackle this challenge by developing an integrated monitoring strategy for wild harvest in the region and developing cultivation protocols for commercially viable macroalgae species tailored to the environmental conditions of BANOS.
On the other hand, the microalgae industry in Europe is relatively small in comparison to the macroalgal sector, comprised of 400 companies producing 300 tonnes annually with the majority located in the southern regions of Europe. AlgaeProBANOS pilots are bringing microalgae production to the Baltic and North Sea region. Microalgal biomass finds applications in various sectors, including food, feed, nutraceuticals, cosmetics, fertilizers, and biostimulants. The market value of microalgae-based products is estimated to be around €500 million, and it is projected to rise to €900 million by 2030. However, there is a need for technical innovations to reduce capital expenditure and production costs in the industry.
It is important to note that the successful microalgae cultivation technologies employed in Southern Europe may not directly apply to the BANOS region due to climate and environmental conditions. To address this challenge, the AlgaeProBANOS project aims to bridge the gap and demonstrate the feasibility of two microalgae farms tailored to the BANOS regions. A promising aspect of microalgae cultivation lies in its integration with waste streams, which can provide valuable CO2 and nutrient sources. By efficiently utilizing these waste streams, the microalgae industry can contribute to the principles of the circular bioeconomy and develop sustainable and region-specific solutions in the field of algae-based industries.
Digital tools to unlock efficiency and collaboration
In the dynamic algae market, business development tools can be overwhelming and unclear, hindering producers’ ability to grasp matchmaking and networking opportunities. This is particularly critical for fast-growing start-ups seeking connections with established companies along the value chain. To address this, AlgaeProBANOS will create diverse digital tools for farming, processing, product marketing and logistics. These tools aim to enhance producers’ visibility, facilitate connection between farmers and processing companies, foster the development of raw material market, support consumers to navigate the products offer as well as processing companies to discover new products and raw materials.
As part of the project, an Algae Business Club (ABC) will be formed. The ABC will serve as an exchange platform for industry partners and investors to share information and exploit AlgaeProBANOS outcomes. To ease interaction there will be an online matchmaking tool.
With the aim of designing services and products that align better with users’ needs and provide insightful information to innovators and entrepreneurs, ultimately leading to more socially and economically sustainable solutions, AlgaeProBANOS will carry out co-creation workshops. These multi-stakeholder workshops will cover ideation, experimentation, and validation involving end-users, consumers, and industry experts. The project will also organize interactive algae journeys in specific cities to increase public awareness and collect feedback on algae products.
Accelerating developments in the algae sector
To accelerate the development of new products and markets, the project will develop replicable go-to-market strategies and blueprints useful to algae entrepreneurs, and socio-economic assessments for policymakers. In line with this and to drive innovation within the algae sector, AlgaeProBANOS will support third-party start-ups and SMEs that are developing products and services that can benefit and speed up the technology and market uptake through third-party (cascade) financing for mentoring and coaching. Selected cases will have access to mentoring and advice on technical, business, legal, or marketing matters via the SUBMARINER Network Accelerator that since 2017 has mentored 40+ technology business cases.
AlgaeProBANOS partners gathered on 15, 16, and 17 of May 2023 in Berlin, Germany to set the stage for the exciting journey ahead. The event was hosted by SUBMARINER Network, the project‘s leading partner. The meeting provided a platform for the 26 project partners to know each other, align visions, unveil the project’s overarching strategy, and establish clear objectives. Speaking at the project launch, Angela Schultz-Zehden, Managing Director of the SUBMARINER Network, said she was excited to be embarking on this new Baltic and North Sea lighthouse project which is among the largest EU-funded algae projects. Only a decade ago, the cultivation and use of algae in Europe was very much at the research stage. Today, many large-scale industry players are highly interested in algae as a new bio-resource to improve the environmental footprint of their products. AlgaeProBANOS will make a big contribution to mainstreaming the use of algae in very different industries throughout Europe, making it an everyday commodity for future generations.
The next major meeting will be at the 1st Mission Ocean Arena in Gothenburg Sweden on 14, 15, and 16 November 2023, where a wide range of stakeholders will meet and discuss, with the aim to get inspired by critical innovation solutions and start transferring them to their regions to make an impact.
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