Updated: Jun 10, 2022
What’s happening? The EU4Algae platform has been launched by the European Commission, the European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency and a consortium of industry organisations to support Europe’s algae sector. The platform aims to promote the use of algae for nutrition and other uses to EU consumers and businesses over a three-year period, including as a sustainable feedstock for biodegradable plastics. The platform will facilitate collaboration between algae producers, buyers, sellers and consumers, along with investors, researchers and authorities. Why does this matter? Progress towards a large-scale algae industry across Europe has not been as fast compared to other areas which have dominated production and consumption, such as Asia. The EU4Algae platform aims to aid efforts to expand the region’s algae sector, to play a bigger role in the EU’s blue economy. The platform will act as a hub for accessible information around algae projects, funding calls, best industry practice and intelligence for all stakeholders, and will be available online by summer this year. By the end of 2022, the Commission will also launch an EU Algae initiative and action plan to support it. Aside from its nutritional value, algae has been lauded for the natural ecosystem services it provides, such as climate change mitigation through carbon absorption, as well as its potential for alternative products when harvested including livestock feed and biofuels. Another use case gaining interest is biodegradable packaging, which could play a larger role in replacing conventional plastics amid increasing regulations to curb plastic pollution. The European algae industry has traditionally relied on the harvesting of wild seaweed stocks, which has natural limits for sustainable extraction. The sector will need to upscale in a sustainable way to ensure long-term stability, which will require integrating regenerative practices that are climate-resilient and climate-friendly into production. Given Europe is one of the biggest global importers of seaweed products in relation to value, there are opportunities for investment in production for both the public and private sector here. According to a report by coalition group Seaweed for Europe, the industry has the potential to be worth up to €9.3bn ($10bn) by 2030 and generate around 85,000 jobs. Despite opportunities for expansion, the sector has largely remained restricted due to several barriersincluding a fractured value chain and the absence of adequate knowledge around the potential of algae and seaweed among decision-makers, which has limited investment to date. Other regions are exploring investment in the sector. Last year the Australian government granted AUS59m ($43m) toward a range of seaweed-related research projects. Elsewhere, a consortium of firms including Eneos and Honda are also aiming to establish a large-scale, economically viable microalgae farm facility in Malaysia. The facility will span five hectares and produce approximately 140,000 mt of microalgae which will be used in food, consumer goods products and biofuels. There can be some downsides of large-scale algae production, however. Potential disadvantages from farmed seaweed include the risk of altering the genetic diversity of wild seaweed stocks and impacts associated with monoculture if one species is chosen to be intensively farmed. Other concerns with increasing production include noise pollution caused by harvesting methods, which could disrupt other marine life, and reduced light and shading to some seabed habitats such as seagrass beds.
These factors will need to be carefully managed when growing the industry.