GREENHOUSE: - I am convinced that microalgaes can revolutionize the fish farming industry, says Hans Kleivdal (second from the left). Here at the Mongstad test centre, with Jeroen de Vree (University of Bergen University), Dorinde Kleinegris (Uni Research) and Tom Roger Lid (CO2Bio). Photo: Thor Brødreskift for the University of Bergen

Feeding the future

They are only a thousandth of a millimeter. Yet, microalgaes might revolutionize the world’s food production.

We have a problem. According to the U.N, there will be 8.5 billion humans in the world by 2030. That is one billion more than today, only 13 years into the future. Feeding one billion more mouths, with basically the same food resources, is no easy task.

Part of a solution might be very tiny, and very green, and just now enjoying the sunlight in a greenhouse north of Bergen.

-Enormous potential 

-The potential is enormous! I am truly convinced that microalgaes can revolutionize the farm fishing industry, says Hans Kleivdal.

He is the research director at Uni Research, one of Norway’s most respected research institutes. Dr. Kleivdal is also head of research at National Algaepilot Mongstad of the University of Bergen one of Europe’s most advanced facilities for applied microalgae research.

The Greater Bergen area is home to several of the world's largest producers of seafood. Fish farming is predicted to play a key part in addressing the increased food needs of the future. To produce more fish, more feed is needed - and today traditional feed resources are limited.

Microalgae can prove useful in several areas, ranging from medicine, cosmetics and nutritional supplements to beer brewing and biofuel. At Mongstad the main goal with the green, small algae is to feed an increasingly starving world.

One thousandth of a millimeter

Fish, and thus the important fish oil, is a result of the marine food chain, where microalgae are the primary producers at the lowest trophic level. Kleivdal and his colleagues is aiming to jump over many levels of the marine food chain, and grow fish feed straight from the microalgae. A large-scale production will give the seafood industry their much-needed feed. There is even a nice bonus here: The large amount of fish that today is used making fish oil, could be feeding humans.

- The size of a microalga is usually only a few thousandth of a millimeter, so this is not something we can harvest directly from the ocean. Therefore, we produce sustainably on shore instead. Microalgae grown by photosynthesis do not require freshwater nor agricultural land, which today are already limited resources, says Kleivdal.

800,000 different species

At the Mongstad test center, vivid green seawater splashes through several hundred meters of pipes. Both the pipes and the building are made of glass, so that the microalgaes can absorb as much light as possible to drive the photosynthesis. Today, Kleivdal and colleagues is testing which of the 800,000 different types of microalgae that will make the best fish feed.

- We are looking for algae strains that grow fast, have a lot of Omega 3 fatty acids and nutritious protein. One of the reasons that salmon filets are so healthy is because of the high Omega 3 content resulting from high quality feed, says Kleivdal.

Making food from waste

At Mongstad, the seawater flushing through the long glass tubes are added nutrients and unwanted waste from the next-door neighbor, Technology Centre Mongstad. TCM is the world’s largest test facility for CO2 capture and storage. While CO2 is unwanted emissions from the nearby oil refinery, it is necessary in the photosynthesis that causes the algae to grow. So, unwanted waste from the oil industry is now used to produce valuable fish feed. Furthermore, the research team is currently investigating how waste from fish farms can be used as a nutrient in algae production. According to Dr. Kleivdal, a future large-scale production can only be based on circular economy with reuse of waste.

Heading for hungry salmon

In the fall of 2017, the first farm salmon will have its microalgae dinner from the National Algaepilot Mongstad facility.

If everything goes as planned, large-scale production of the tiny, green algae will provide both jobs and economic growth for the seafood industry. In addition, help solve the world's ever-increasing need for food.