Algae for food production from marine and freshwater ecosystems

The EU INNOAQUA project will make sustainable protein by integrating algae production with RAS in the aquaculture industry.
Dorinde Kleinegris, INNOAQUA project manager, pictured in a reactor for growing microalgae in a laboratory at Marineholmen in Bergen. The EU project, with 17 partners from 8 countries, is led by NORCE. Photo: NORCE.
Dorinde Kleinegris, INNOAQUA project manager, pictured in a reactor for growing microalgae in a laboratory at Marineholmen in Bergen. The EU project, with 17 partners from 8 countries, is led by NORCE. Photo: NORCE.

Algae are the protagonists of INNOAQUA, a new EU project within the Horizon Europe program that seeks to manufacture sustainable proteins.  Led by the Norwegian Research Centre (NORCE), it is included in the 'Farm-to-Fork' strategy, which addresses innovative food production from marine and freshwater ecosystems. A total of 17 partners from eight countries are involved in the project which has a budget of EUR 7.3 million, of which almost EUR 6 million are funded by the European Union.

Low carbon footprint alternative protein

The 'Farm-to-Fork' strategy of the European Green Deal not only recognizes the potential of algae to become an important source of alternative protein with a low carbon footprint but also to contribute to improving the sustainability and competitiveness of the aquaculture sector. However, the European algae industry is still at an early stage.

For this reason, this EU project, INNOAQUA, aims at "to pave the path towards the upcoming sustainable and diversified EU in-land aquaculture industry by demonstrating and mainstreaming innovative algae-based foods and solutions, based on ecology, circularity and digitalization concepts." To achieve this, Dorinde Kleinegris, the project leader of INNOAQUA, and a senior researcher at NORCE, explains that they will work with two main focuses.

"Firstly, demonstrating the operational, technical, and socio-economic robustness of integrated and digitally enhanced fish and algae cultivation systems at the pre-commercial level, and secondly, piloting optimised processing techniques within a biorefinery approach and the formulation of high-added value seafood products, we aim to address the main barriers hindering the growth of the sector," she explained.

Algae production using RAS

"We will promote innovative algae-based food and new circular solutions. We will also deal with bottlenecks that are an obstacle to growth in the sector," continued Kleinegris. She also said the project "fits like a glove" with the ambitions of governments, such as Norway's, that aim to achieve more sustainable food production with a smaller climate footprint.

In order to make the proteins, the researchers will integrate algae production with recirculating aquaculture systems (RAS) in the aquaculture industry and reuse the resources in algae and fish production.

Among other things, this means that selected strains of algae must be cultivated with a purified water fertilizer product in RAS cultivation facilities. With this type of microalgae nutrient, microalgae can grow rapidly in large quantities, in addition to having high protein levels.

Pilot Project with Viking Aqua

NORCE is leading one of the two demonstration cases of the project, related to the interaction between fish farming RAS facilities and microalgae cultivation. In addition, this will be accompanied by a specific waste minimization and valorization strategy to help optimize and increase its economic and sustainability performance.

To this end, a pilot for an optimized process will be tested in collaboration with the Norwegian land-based salmon farming company Viking Aqua. Although the INNOAQUA project started on June 1, 2023, it has been a year since talking about the circular economy in the aquaculture industry, Viking Aqua's Sustainability Manager, Maren Ødegaard Tangen, told us the company was applying for funding for this R&D project which, in part, consists of combining the production of microalgae and Atlantic salmon in RAS.

"The industry is already exploring new ways of utilizing fish sludge and other waste streams from production to generate energy and produce fertilizer, and Viking Aqua's intention is to take part in this development in the years to come," she told WeAreAquaculture then. "We strongly believe that R&D is essential to making salmon farming more circular and therefore R&D is one of our five strategic pillars."

International cooperation and knowledge transfer

In addition to the above, INNOAQUA will also work to understand how consumer perspectives and social norms affect the consumption of innovative seafood products. Together with end users, products will be created, and their adoption will be simulated in digital community models to identify effective market penetration and deployment strategies.

Finally, international cooperation and knowledge transfer will be fostered, and efforts will be made to maximize the project's reach and impact through a multi-level dissemination strategy. The full name of INNOAQUA project is 'Innovative Approaches for an Integrated Use of Algae in Sustainable Aquaculture Practices and High-Value Food applications.'

Besides NORCE, the partners participating in INNOAQUA are: Viking Aqua AS and Marineholmen RASlab AS, from Norway; Algemy Ingredients SL, Acondicionamiento Tarrasense Asociación (Leitat), Sutainability Innovation SL and Pescanova España SL, from Spain; A4F-Algafuel SA, Safiestela- Sustainable Aquafarming Investments, INESC TEC – Instituto de Engenharia de Sistemas e Computadores, Tecnologia e Ciência, from Portugal; Eranova and Association Eco Imagination, from France; European Aquaculture Society and Perseus, from Belgium;  Viva Maris GmbH from Germany; PEDAL Consulting SRO from Slovakia; and Universidade Federal do Rio de Janeiro, from Brazil.

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