Farmed seafood has been for long identified as a low-carbon source of food and feed; additionally, algae have a growing number of potential commercial uses in such sectors as pharmaceuticals and plant bio-stimulants, bio-packaging, cosmetics and biofuels. With the recent EU’s “algae initiative”, the Commission wants to unlock EU algae sector potentials by supporting the development of regenerative algae cultivation and production.
Along numerous possible applications that algae can offer, the seaweed industry in Europe is still very much in an embryonic stage, being mainly focused on the harvesting of seaweed from the wild rather than cultivated sector in aquaculture. Recent European “algae initiative” intends to unlock the potential of the EU algae sector by supporting the development of regenerative algae cultivation and production. Such an industry may harness the potential of vast European seas, increased production on land, while creating jobs for local communities, producing healthy low-carbon products, regenerating coastal ecosystems (e.g. fixing CO2 and nutrients and generating oxygen) and providing ecosystem services.
The European coastal regions have been recognised as a fertile ground for the algae sector to thrive. For example, the cold, nutrient-rich waters of the Atlantic Ocean and the North Sea have ideal natural conditions for seaweed cultivation. Researchers believe also that Europe has more vast areas suitable for seaweed farming, as algae has a wide markets’ use, such as food, animals and fish feed, pharmaceuticals, bio-packaging and/or or biofuels.
Besides, the EU is one of the biggest importers of seaweed products globally, and the demand is expected to reach €9 billion in 2030, especially in food, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, and energy production.
In November 2022, the Commission adopted the Communication ‘Towards a strong and sustainable EU algae sector’, a pioneering initiative to unlock the potential of algae in the European Union.
In the Communication, the Communication proposes several actions to opening and creating feasible opportunities for numerous industrial sectors to help the “algae-industry” to grow into a robust, sustainable and regenerative sector capable of meeting the growing EU demand.
See Communication in: https://oceans-and-fisheries.ec.europa.eu/publications/communication-commission-towards-strong-and-sustainable-eu-algae-sector_en
Unlocking algae potential in Europe
At the end of 2019, the Blue Bio-Economy Forum published the Roadmap for the Blue Bio- economy; the roadmap made recommendations in four main areas: = policy, environment and regulations; = finance and business development; = consumers and value chains, and = science, technology and innovation.
The roadmap, however, noted that the development of algae cultivation in Europe has been hindered by numerous factors: e.g. high production costs, low-scale development, fragmented governance framework, limited knowledge of the markets, unlocked consumers’ needs, as well as incurred risks and environmental impacts of algae cultivation.
During last three years, the Commission launched and supported several algae-related initiatives, which are currently in an implementation or planning phase. Most vital is the European Algae Stakeholder Platform – called EU4Algae – created in February 2022 as a unique space for collaboration among European algae stakeholders and a single information hub on algae funding calls, projects, business-related information, intelligence and best practices.
Besides, the EU research and innovation funds invite applications for possible projects, and the Bio-Based Europe Joint Undertaking provides for investments in the algae sector together with the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and the European Regional Development Fund.
Some other initiative shall be mentioned too: e.g. blue economy-related business support mechanisms, such as Blue Invest and the new-born Aquaculture Assistance Mechanism.
The EU Algae Initiative aims to contribute to that by making wider use of the vast and too little used resource that is the seas and the oceans: presently, algae is the source of only about 2 per cent of human food, despite covering over 70 per cent of the Earth’s surface.
Positive developmental outcomes
The farming of macro-algae can help regenerate the ocean and seas by removing nutrients that cause eutrophication. It has a low carbon and environmental footprint and a promising potential for carbon sequestration. Micro-algae production can also be done on land and far from the sea. They are source of carbon compounds and have applications in wastewater treatment and atmospheric CO2 mitigation. A stronger European algae sector would thus support the objectives of the European Green Deal and the Farm to Fork strategy as we need to transit to more sustainable food systems and a more circular economy.
Virginijus Sinkevičius, Commissioner for Environment, Oceans and Fisheries underlined that “stronger EU algae farming and processing sectors can respond to demand in a wide range of industries, starting with food, animal feed or bio-based plastic to cosmetics, pharmaceuticals or bio-fuels”. Algae biomass can serve as an alternative to raw materials that now are usually fossil-fuel-based, which is very much in line with the European Green Deal’s decarbonisation ambition. The Commissioner stressed that new initiative was going to approach the EU algae sector’s growth in a holistic way “as never before”.
Citations from: https://ec.europa.eu/commission/presscorner/detail/en/ip_22_6899
A growing global population, the depletion of resources, environmental pressures, and the impact of climate change require a different approach to food and economic systems. For this to happen, it is essential to develop new and sustainable ways of feeding a rapidly growing global population.
23 EU actions to boost the algae sector
The Commission identifies over twenty actions, which aim to improve business environments, increase social awareness and acceptance of algae and algae-based products by consumers, and close the knowledge, research, and technology gaps.
Some key actions include:
= developing a new algae farmers’ toolkit; = facilitating access to marine space, identifying optimal sites for seaweed farming and including seaweed farming and sea multi-use in maritime spatial plans; = together with the European Committee for Standardisation (CEN), developing standards for algae ingredients and contaminants, as well as for algae bio-fuel; = assessing the market potential, efficiency and safety of algae-based materials when used in fertilising products; = examining the algae market and proposing market-stimulating mechanisms to support the transfer of technology from research to market; = funding pilot projects for career reorientation and supporting innovative SMEs and projects in the algae sector; = conducting studies and discussions to gain better knowledge, amongst others, on seaweed climate change mitigation opportunities and the role of seaweed as blue carbon sinks, define maximum levels of contaminants and iodine in algae; = supporting, through Horizon Europe and other EU research programs, the development of new and improved algae processing systems, novel production methods and algae cultivation systems; = promoting awareness-raising actions and analyse availability of algae-related data.
Business, researchers and organisations active in the algae sector will be key partners for implementing the proposed actions, acknowledged the EU4Algae Forum which was launched by the Commission in February 2022.
EU’s Commission, together with the European Investment Fund, has created a large-scale equity fund “InvestEU Blue Economy” that will mobilise €500 million public and private funds between 2021-2027 resulting in up to €1,5 billion of risk-finance for innovative and sustainable blue-economy’s SMEs and start-ups. It is going to include, partially, the algae sector: presently, there are over twenty algae-related developmental directions in the created “blue invest” project pipeline where SMEs are directly linked to more than 400 investors.
To implement the actions envisaged in this Communication, funding has been earmarked for instance under the Horizon Europe program and in the European Maritime, Fisheries and Aquaculture Fund (EMFAF); some algae-related actions in Horizon Europe have already been either closed or still ongoing.
The Commission promised to continue looking into opportunities for funding in the algae-related actions: the EU institutions have already provided funding for several pilot projects on algae farming, like algae cultivation in a multi-use setting with wind farms.
See additionally on algae-related projects in the EU MSP Platform.
More information in: =Questions and Answers on Strong and Sustainable Algae Sector; = Commission Communication “Towards a Strong and Sustainable EU Algae Sector”; = EU4Algae initiative; and = Sustainable blue economy communication