− Microalgae have enormous potential. In the EU project LOCALITY, we will speed up their cultivation and put them into use, says project leader and research leader in NIVA, Margarida Costa.
The LOCALITY project will run for four years. 27 partners from 12 countries will develop circular and sustainable value chains and connect industrial players to develop new algae-based products for the market. And they must do this in a way that protects and restores aquatic ecosystems.
− We say that the project will carry out circular alchemy, through innovative use of excess nutrients in what we call problem water − wastewater - and over-fertilized sea areas such as the Baltic Sea, says NIVA's managing director Pål Molander.
There are two essential reasons why NIVA is ready to take the lead in the cultivation of microalgae: One is that, together with the University of Oslo, we have a large algae collection, NORCCA, which we have been building up since the 1960s.
− The collection is worth its weight in gold. It contains more than 2000 species. Now is the time to put it to use together with industry and enable value creation, says director of research at NIVA, Mari Moren.
The other important reason why NIVA can assume the role of microalgae pioneer is that the institute has pilot cultivation facilities in NIVA's Solbergstrand station.
− So far we have carried out many environmental studies using our algae samples.It is not until now that we exploit them commercially, says project manager Costa.
What makes microalgae more interesting than higher plants is that they reproduce themselves, and this at a high rate.
− This means that we can grow algae at a high pace. When we also know that they can be used for many different products, we believe that this project will create new, environmentally friendly opportunities for the partners who participate, says Costa.
Economy is the bottleneck
As with other innovations, the economy is a bottleneck for microalgae farming.
− While we have been working on breeding higher plants for many years, this is a new area. Spirulina, which is used in food, is an exception. We started cultivating this alga in the last century and we are still optimizing it.
To speed up the cultivation, the researchers will optimize the growth conditions. In LOCALITY, the strain selection and culture optimization will be tailored to suit the downstream use, i.e. the properties needed for the algae to be a high value resource in disticnt value chains.
− Microalgae cultivation requires expertise, which drives up costs and leads to the cultivation taking place in countries where labor is less expensive. Funded by the EU, the LOCALITY project will optimise microalgae cultivation and harvest seaweed in the North Sea and in the Baltic countries, all grown in ways to reduce the surplus of nutrients in different water bodies. We won’t stop at there, but also develop business plans, explore the market opportunities for each of our products and launch them on the market, concludes Costa.