Microalgae – a sustainable protein alternative?

The potential of microalgae is enormous, which is why Agroscope is researching the options for using these microorganisms as feed ingredients for livestock.

As part of a long-term project called “Algafeed”, Agroscope researchers are aiming to produce a new source of protein for livestock on the basis of microalgae. To do this, they plan to set up microalgae production systems or “photobioreactors” (PBRs) directly on the farm. The objective is to develop a decentralised production system for protein-rich microalgae in order to supply locally made feed, thus reducing imports of soybean oilcake meal.

What are the advantages of microalgae?

Microalgae are an attractive alternative to soy thanks to their balanced biochemical composition, with essential amino acids, polysaccharides, polyunsaturated fatty acids, minerals, pigments and fibre. Their functional nutritional properties are comparable to those of soy.

Project stages

Algafeed is a multi-stage project. The current stage (technical and economic feasibility) is looking at the following topics:

  • Selection of microalgae species: microalgae are selected on the basis of protein content and biochemical composition (nutritional value and high value-added nutrients such as trace elements, vitamins, fatty acids, recognised pre- and probiotics, etc.). The ability of microalgae to withstand extreme culturing conditions is another key criterion, given that the aim is to produce protein without the high energy consumption associated with temperature control.
  • Development of culturing systems: to increase the productivity of a microalgae culture, culturing systems are being improved (notably by optimising the light source and improving gas exchange).
  • Optimising the specific culturing method to ensure that the processes involved are suitable for future on-farm application and the nutritional values of the resulting microalgae are ideal for use in animal feed. Downstream processes are also being optimised to ensure good feed digestibility, ease of administration and keeping nutritional qualities.
  • The digestibility of the end product will be tested in in vitro studies using the INFOGEST system and palatability tests in livestock are planned.
  • In-depth assessment of environmental impact combined with techno-economic viability.