Algae and their potential for a future bioeconomy, landless food production, and the socio-economic impact of an algae industry
Despite being a comparatively new branch of agriculture, algae production is often considered to be a solution to many food security-related problems, such as land scarcity, climate change, inefficient and unsustainabl fertilizer usage, as well as associated nutrient leakage and water pollution. Algae can be cultivated independent of arable land and, especially in the case of many microalgae, produce oil- and/or protein-rich biomass with spatial efficiency which far exceeds that of terrestrial plants. Nevertheless, algae and algae-derived products are almost exclusively produced for high-value, low-volume markets and are far from being able to compete with cheap commodities such as plant-based proteins or fossil fuel. High investment and production costs are considered the main reason for this, but a lack of economic incentives for sustainable production and CO2 mitigation should not be overlooked. The development of new production technologies; the monetization of ecosystem services, such as water treatment, CO2 sequestration, and nutrient recycling; as well as the simultaneous production and marketing of “high-value, low-volume” and “low-value, high-volume” products from the same algal biomass are the most promising ways forward. A sustainable “algae industry” could be an integral part of the future bioeconomy, enabling more resource-efficient food and fuel production and creating new products, companies, and jobs.