Algae on Toast
By Ap van den Berg. Translated by Kees Callenbach.

Ingrepro in Borculo, together with TNO, intends to make the cultivation of algae a significant operation. Ingrepro produces 6 tonnes per annum. One use for the algae is as a food supplement.

Photo GPD/David van Dam. 

The production of algae for foodstuffs and energy is progressing slowly.

The Netherlands Research Institute, TNO, in cooperation with the company Ingrepro from Borculo will start a research project aimed at harvesting ingredients for the food industry from algae. It would be regarded as a reasonable possibility that, in future, vegetarian hamburgers will be made from algae instead of soy or diary proteins.

Food from algae.

Borculo –It is with pride that Algae-farmer Carel Callenbach shows the first products: dogs biscuits made with proteins from algae, additives in bird fodder, constituents in banana syrup, the blue dye from algae for M&M’s and stripy toothpaste.
“We have 50% of the golf courses and football fields in the Netherlands as clients, to combat fungal infestations.” said Callenbach. Eight years ago he bought a couple of old pig sheds in the eastern town of Borculo, with money from the joint venture company of East Gelderland, and started a new career as an algae farmer. Prior to that, he sold raw materials for a number of companies, after studying economics at the Agricultural University of Wageningen.
Algae have been used in industry for decades, particularly in the production of enzymes, but also for specific colour and flavouring agents and even medicines. The new applications of Callenbach’s business, Ingrepro, could be the beginning of a revolutionary development, which are good for the environment. In Borculo, on a farm of almost one hectare (2.5 acres), Callenbach harvests, from two basins, eight to nine thousand kilos. He buys double that quantity from Asia and the USA.  In nearby Dalfsen he plans to build a large algae basin of some 5 hectares, (12.5 acres) on a diary farm. Near a potato processor in east Groningen there are plans for an operation of similar scale. It is intended that the production of algae will reach 50,000 tons by 2013.
At TNO the expectations are high. The research institute established a cooperative research project with Ingrepro. “With our knowledge of ingredients and the possible applications of algae we can make a positive contribution to maximize the benefits algae have to offer, so tells Business Development Manager. Ronald Korstanje. Still little is known about carbohydrates in algae. TNO is hopeful that the cooperation with the laboratory workers at Ingrepro will shed more light on that subject.
Although the farming of algae is relatively cheap, Callenbach has little competition from other algae farmers. He is sad about that. “The more competition the better, because that works as a sort of catalyst for the demand for algae products.” The market for algae is too slow getting off the ground, according to Callenbach and Korstanje. This complaint resonates with Greenpeace - an important campaigner for a sustainable economy. Campaign leader Michael van Geelen says: “you see that also with the development of sun- and wind energy. The Federal Government invests much money in the technical development, but does little to stimulate the market.  Many beautiful new products are being developed, which are being sold with great difficulty”.
The Economics Ministry dismisses this criticism. “We specially invest a lot of money in the marketing of durable technological inventions”, according to a spokesman.
Callenbach is of the opinion that the corporate world must do more. “KLM Dutch Airlines is interested in bio-fuel, but is not going to produce it themselves. Like wise Shell is interested in bio-diesel, but is not going to farm it themselves. They want to get the product delivered on a platter. Production will have to be increased significantly to develop that market in any meaningful way”. Callenbach himself organises many meetings in the country, where he encourages dairy farmers to construct algae basins. In these basins they can process the manure from the cattle – which serves as a nutrient for the algae. That means that they are at once CO
² neutral, which can afford the opportunity to expand their operation if required. And that increases the chance that algae production will grow into a profitable, environmentally friendly enterprise.

Algae for nutrition.

 Algae consist, for a maximum of sixty percent, out of proteins, which can be a vegetarian alternative to animal proteins. Another thirty percent consists of oils, which are rich in healthy omega 3- and omega 6 fatty acids. That part is suitable as edible oil for manufacturers of food products. Science has so far discovered and characterised some 80,000 types of algae.
The cultivation of algae is not a complicated business. The micro-organisms are kept in basins which are about forty centimetres deep. The water is kept in motion by means of screws (such as those of water mills). Algae multiply with the aid of (sun) light. Harvesting happens every 24 hours the whole year long. The algae are removed by means of a filtration process, after which they are heated and dried. They come out of this process as a thin type of puff pastry and it tastes like a vegetable (kale, broccoli). The useful components can be, subsequently, extracted.