Algae Research and Growing Industry in Brittany

The Roscoff Biological Station, this emblematic center of Breton research in marine biology, hosted November 29 2022, a symposium on algae, a natural resource on which the Breton food industry is building a sustainable future and yes, full of hope. Entitled "The valorization of macro and micro algae Blue biotechnologies at the service of a sustainable agro-food industry, from food to packaging", the conference was organized by the Forum Blue Cluster. In collaboration with the Center for the Study and Valorization of Algae (CEVA) based in Pleubian, with Blue Train which aims to position the Breton territory as a center of excellence in professional training in the field of marine biotechnologies, and also with the ULVANS project which works to transform green algae into animal feed and Seaweed for Europe. This European agency has authored a report for the development of this industry in Europe.

Just over 150 entrepreneurs and scientists (many are both) gathered to listen to half a dozen presentations and panel discussions. The crème de la crème of start-ups, and well-established companies like Olmix, created in 1995, intervened to present not only their products but also their research and their hopes. Among them : Aberactives (Roscoff), Agrimer (Plouguerneau), Algaia (Lannilis), Algawell (Sautron), Algood (Trégueux), Algosource (Saint-Nazaire), Eranova (Port-Saint-Louis-du-Rhône), Polaris (Quimper ), Ceatech (Quimper), Notpla (London). Issues regarding regulations and funding were also discussed.

What's new?

Until now, polysaccharides, these molecules with astonishing properties of brown algae, were extracted by costly and tedious industrial processes, often in an aggressive acid medium. Aberactives, a start-up founded by three biologists from the Roscoff station: Bernard Kloareg, Gurvan Michel and Robert Larocque, has developed a procedure for extracting polysaccharides based on enzymes, called "biorefining by enzymatic process". An environmentally friendly and sustainable innovation that should facilitate the extraction of these molecules.

In terms of edible seaweed, we can only point out a small revolution in terms of supply. Until now, only seaweed tartars have won over European consumers. They are sold in supermarkets. Algood, a start-up from Trégueux has made a small revolution in the processing of edible seaweed by offering lacto-fermented seaweed. Lacto-fermentation is a natural process that takes place when there is no oxygen. Seaweed is no longer dehydrated, cooked, tartarized or frozen, it is fermented like sauerkraut. It uses no energy and these sea vegetables can be kept for several months at room temperature. Admittedly, the fermentation process is slower than with vegetables, but it is possible to add the right ferment to speed up the process (10 days instead of 50)

Vincent Doumeizel, the author of The Algae Revolution (to be translated in English soon), who closed the day with a presentation of his book, understood this well. Algal biomass is a huge source of protein. Algae do not require watering, fertilizer or pesticides, just seawater and light. If we add lacto-fermentation to it, we would finally have the possibility of feeding the entire planet.

Micro-algae and macro-remedies

In terms of microalgae, we note the development of microalgae cultures to extract oils rich in Omega-3. These food supplements which contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) contribute to the health of the cardiovascular system. The company Polaris, based in Quimper, is mastering the oil purification process, including those extracted from wild fish. The company broke into the American market. Two other start-ups, Tinctura from Ploudaniel, who produce spirulina in liquid form, and Algawell based in Sautron who produces both food and cosmetics.

Still a long way to go

Damien Guiffant from the Vidon group presented the global research situation. China, who produces 10 million tons of cultivated algae per year, is far ahead with around 10,000 families of patents published, the priority of which is China. It is followed by South Korea and Japan, then the USA. France is in 5th position but with only 430 patent families whose priority is France.

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