Algae: Pond Scum or Food of the Future?

Aerial view of the algae ponds at Cyanotech, a Hawaii-based company that produces microalgae health and nutrition products. WIKIMEDIA/CC0 1.0 UNIVERSAL


Could algae be a solution to projected food shortages in the future? Some growers are hoping so.

Despite its reputation as pond scum, algae nevertheless represents big money to some investors and a possible solution to the world hunger problem. In fact, you may already be ingesting the little green plant. Algae is found in «green smoothies

But it could become a much more important food source, say people like Miguel Calatayud. He runs a farm in Columbus, New Mexico, where salt-water ponds stretch out across under a desert sky. Algae «is the foundation of the next generation of farming and food,» he told CNN recently

But what would it taste like? «You’re not going to be eating an algae sandwich soon,» says Barry Cohen, executive director of the National Algae Association. Algae will most likely be used as a new protein ingredient in food products. «A lot of companies are testing it,» he says.

It’s seen as filling the role

«This industry is growing,» Cohen says. «It’s small — maybe 10 to 15 companies around the world.»

Population Strains Food Resources

Urban population growth around the world — particularly in Asia and North Africa — will put a strain on food resources,

In addition to feeding a growing population, algae is seen as a way to address existing malnutrition. The Swiss Antenna Foundationcultivates spirulina in Tamil Nadu, India. The plant is given as a supplement to children to combat malnutrition and the foundation trains people in local production as a way to encourage local sustainability.

A Tamil Nadu company run by Aakas Sadasivam (India) and Mika Rautio, a Finnish partner, is also growing algae. The company, Prolgae Sprulina

But algae production is not always necessarily successful. A California company, TerraVia

Other Potential Uses

Long before the current efforts to sell algae as food, algae was considered a potential source of biofuel. $2.5 billion has been spent over 70 years to try to create biofuel from algae, Cohen says. «Algae secretes oil,» Cohen says. When oil prices were high, oil companies began researching algae as a fuel alternative. Now that oil prices are low, companies may be looking for new uses for algae. «If [oil companies] could construct and deploy large biofuel farms, that could be one solution to the electric car since the infrastructure is already in place.” Algae biofuel is, of course, carbon neutral.

Algae also pulls in carbon dioxide and puts out quantities of oxygen. But in some respects, algae is a bad guy. Harmful algal blooms create toxins in seawater, killing fish and other marine life. But putting algae to work — and putting it on the table — could help it redeem itself.