Al­gae can out­com­pete soya and be­come big busi­ness

Financial Mirror (Cyprus) - - FRONT PAGE - By Ingvil Snofugl

Es­tab­lish­ment of the Nor­we­gian Cen­tre for Plank­ton Tech­nol­ogy has yet to be com­pleted, but there has nev­er­the­less been high lev­els of in­ter­est from both in­dus­try and re­search.

“It’s sat­is­fy­ing to see that many peo­ple are see­ing the po­ten­tial of al­gae and plank­ton”, said Cen­tre Man­ager and Re­search Di­rec­tor Gun­vor Oie at SINTEF Ocean.

“Our aim is to con­trib­ute to­wards es­tab­lish­ing a new bioma­rine in­dus­try in Nor­way. Some peo­ple be­lieve that al­gae and plank­ton will be the new oil”, she said.

Last year, the plank­ton cen­tre re­ceived just over NOK 19 mln from the Re­search Coun­cil of Nor­way to fund the con­struc­tion of lab­o­ra­to­ries where re­searchers and the in­dus­try in­tend to de­velop con­cepts for fu­ture com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion. SINTEF, the largest in­de­pen­dent re­search or­gan­i­sa­tion in Scan­di­navia, is ad­min­is­ter­ing the cen­tre to­gether with the Nor­we­gian Univer­sity of Sci­ence and Tech­nol­ogy (NTNU), and the fund­ing has made it pos­si­ble to de­velop a new in­fras­truc­ture in the lab­o­ra­to­ries, which con­tain mi­croal­gae (sin­gle-celled al­gae), macroal­gae (sea­weeds) and zoo­plank­ton (in­clud­ing cope­pods, am­phipods and bris­tle worms). The cen­tre aims to iden­tify meth­ods of pro­duc­tion, har­vest­ing and pro­cess­ing of these small or­gan­isms, and work at NTNU and SINTEF is well un­der­way.

“We’ve been test­ing sev­eral sys­tems for sea­weed cul­ti­va­tion, in which the spores we cul­ti­vate will in time be trans­ferred to the sea as part of a large pro­duc­tion fa­cil­ity”, said Pro­fes­sor Kjell Inge Rei­tan at NTNU.

“These sea­weed farms can be lo­cated close to fish farm fa­cil­i­ties, so that the sea­weed can ob­tain nu­tri­ents from the waste ma­te­ri­als pro­duced by the sal­mon farms”, Rei­tan said.

Nor­way aims to ex­pand its aqua­cul­ture sec­tor by five-fold in the years lead­ing up to 2050. In or­der to achieve this, more feed must be man­u­fac­tured for farmed fish. One of the ap­proaches that may be used to achieve this is the pro­duc­tion of mi­croal­gae con­tain­ing high con­cen­tra­tions of fat, which is an im­por­tant in­gre­di­ent in fish feed. Cur­rently, soya is im­ported from over­seas, and some of this is pro­duced on land pre­vi­ously cov­ered by trop­i­cal rain forests. This is ex­pen­sive and not very sus­tain­able.

“Much of the fish feed is pro­duced on land and con­tains too lit­tle of the ben­e­fi­cial fatty acids”, said Jorunn Sk­jermo, a Se­nior Re­search Sci­en­tist at SINTEF and Project Man­ager for the project called COM­PLETE. “With a larger pro­por­tion of al­gae in the feed, its nu­tri­ent value will be en­hanced and the fish will be able to feed on nat­u­ral and healthy food”, she said.

Dur­ing this project, SINTEF is work­ing to­gether with a bio­gas fa­cil­ity in Skogn in Nord-Tron­de­lag county, which is aim­ing to cul­ti­vate al­gae in the waste­water it pro­duces. The re­searchers have al­ready started test pro­duc­tion of mi­croal­gae in lab­o­ra­to­ries lo­cated at the Plank­ton Cen­tre, which is lo­cated on SINTEF Ocean’s premises at Brat­tora in Trond­heim.

“The waste wa­ter we used for the ini­tial ex­per­i­ments was strongly dis­coloured, and this caused prob­lems for mi­croal­gae pro­duc­tion”, says Matilde Sko­gen Chau­ton, a Se­nior Re­search Sci­en­tist at SINTEF Ocean. “We are now test­ing wa­ter pro­duced by a dif­fer­ent stage of the process at Skogn, which con­tains less of the dis­colour­ing sub­stances. We hope that this will make pro­duc­tion much eas­ier”, she says.

Sta­toil has con­tracted the cen­tre to carry out oxy­gen mea­sure­ments on cod eggs and lar­vae, as well as the cul­ti­va­tion of feed or­gan­isms. The main aim of these ex­per­i­ments is to study and doc­u­ment the im­pacts on rel­e­vant ma­rine species of chem­i­cals (syn­thetic polymers) that may be used in con­nec­tion with im­proved oil re­cov­ery.

“How im­por­tant is it to have ac­cess to the Plank­ton Cen­tre?

“From our point of view it is im­por­tant that our sup­pli­ers of ser­vices and re­search projects have ad­e­quate ac­cess to ma­rine plank­ton species that can be used in standard tox­i­c­ity tests, as well as species that are rel­e­vant in the ma­rine en­vi­ron­ment”, says Randi Hage­mann at Sta­toil.

Com­mer­cial­i­sa­tion is a key part of the ef­forts be­ing made at the Nor­we­gian Cen­tre for Plank­ton Tech­nol­ogy, and one of the com­pa­nies that has emerged from the SINTEF start-up com­mu­nity is called C-Feed. The com­pany sells feed in­gre­di­ents for species other than sal­mon to the ma­rine aqua­cul­ture sec­tor.

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