Is microalgae the sustainable food of the future?

The aquatic ecosystem could give our food chain a helping hand. The demand for food is rising and more sustainable production systems are needed. That’s why Europe is opening up to the algae sector.

Humans have been eating macroalgae for a long time, but attention is now turning to their smaller cousins, microalgae, for their nutritional potential.

In Pataias, Portugal, the company Allmicroalgae is developing algae-based applications for foods like cookies, bread, snacks and spreads.

Food engineer, Anabela Raymundo, works for the University of Lisbon and helps develop these microalgae products. She tells us that “it is extremely important to find alternative food sources, which are sustainable and also of nutritional benefit to people. Microalgae are extremely important ingredients because they are rich in both protein and bioactive compounds and therefore they are an extremely important source of nutrition and can be used in lots of foods”.

Is microalgae the food of the future?

They have a low carbon footprint
Their carbon footprint is smaller than that of rice.
It can grow anywhere
In freshwater or seawater, or even indoors, as it doesn’t require soil cultivation.
It’s a natural ressource with many uses
It can be used for human nutrition, animal food, agriculture and the cosmetic sector.
It’s a rich source of protein
But also fatty acids, vitamins, minerals and other high-value phytochemicals.
It can be consumed in different products
Such as health bars, crackers and powders as dietary supplements. 
It’s good for animal’s health
It contributes to their vital functions, such as skin health, heart condition, kidney function and strengthening of the immune system.

There are more than 72 500 species of algae, living in both fresh water and seawater. The larger are called macroalgae and they make up 20% of all species. The remaining 80% is made up of microalgae.

These single-celled microalgae begin their journey to become a source of food in a laboratory, in flasks that contain a liquid culture. Every microalga has varying nutritional value. Some of the nutrients they contain are essential amino acids, essential fatty acids, including omega-3, omega-6, omega-7, and vitamins, like A, D and E. Two of the most popular for human consumption are Chlorella and Spirulina.

Joana Silva is the R&D technical manager at Allmicroalgae. She describes how they work with algae in the company. They start by doing the analytics that allow them to evaluate whether the growth of the microalgae in the photobioreactors is going well or not. “We need to know what happens inside the cell to determine the total protein value and the magnesium consumed within the nutrient medium”, she explains. They also check for iron and “several micro and macronutrients that are essential to the culture and that allow the algae to optimise its nutrient consumption”.

Algal cultivation requires exact procedures in order to achieve abundant biomass yields. Traditional yeast, like the one used to make beer, activates the fermentation process, then the culture is injected into large photobioreactors where it grows until it reaches the right quality standard. After that, it is harvested and processed into fine powder.

The algae are inoculated in reactors where with every new inoculation the culture volume is increased. That is done until they have enough cells to make it worth moving on to the processing stage. The processing stage is meant to concentrate the cells to then make a concentrated paste for the aquaculture market. This concentrate can also be made into a powder that can be used as an ingredient or a food supplement.

The food industry’s interest in microalgae is rising quickly due to new consumer habits, sustainability of production, but also for health reasons. The managing director of Allmicroalgae says the plant-based protein is good, not just for the vegetarian or vegan diet, but it could also be used for “people who are sick and who have difficulties eating high protein products”.

Under the European Union’s Farm to Fork strategy, the Commission is looking to unlock the full potential of the algae industry by the middle of 2022.

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Training network for exploring microalgae diversity for the development of novel antiviral compounds

Project number: 101086437


  • Develop transcriptomics and metabolomics resources from microalgae diversity as a valuable source of novel lectins and polyphenols with antiviral properties
  • Develop and optimize application-based microalgae culture systems at different scales and optimize culture conditions and downstream processing strategies for higher production rate of desired products
  • A range of different unexploited so far strains (extremophiles) that display high ability to produce polyphenols will be characterised and assessed
  • Develop, formulate and in vitro evaluate a new range of cosmetic products with antiviral activity, based on microalgae polyphenols and lectins
  • Provide a platform for the efficient transfer of knowledge and training between the academic and commercial partners
  • Identify and exploit new and emerging market opportunities

Period: January 2023 to December 2026

Funding Scheme: Horizon Europe

PBA – Vertical Algas

Pacto da Bioeconomia Azul - Vertical Algas

Referência: C644915664-00000026


  • O Pacto da Bioeconomia Azul (PBA) tem como objetivo principal impulsionar o desenvolvimento de um novo sector económico industrial de ponta em Portugal, assente na aplicação sustentável de biorecursos marinhos em múltiplas indústrias. É um consórcio de 83 parceiros organizado em 7 verticais industriais.
  • O Vertical Algas corresponde ao um dos verticais do PBA, é liderado pela Necton e tem como principal objetivo a valorização de toda a cadeia de valor do setor das Algas em Portugal. Conta, por isso, com cerca de 40 entidades do tecido empresarial e académico português, focados no aproveitamento de nutrientes ou desperdícios de outras indústrias, na digitalização/automação dos processos produtivos, na melhoria do conhecimento das algas e no desenvolvimento de novos produtos baseados em algas.

Período: julho de 2022 a dezembro de 2025


Funded by PRR – Plano de Recuperação e Resiliência and the Next Generation EU European Funds



Grant agreement ID: 101000501

Goal: Algae4IBD aims to develop functional food and medication against pain, inflammation and IBD from marine and freshwater micro and macroalgae (seaweed).

Period: June 2021 – May 2025

Funding Scheme: Horizon Europe


Reusing Effluents from Agriculture to unLock the potential of Microalgae

Grant agreement ID: 101060991

Goal: REALM will transform nutrient-rich drain waters from soilless farms into value, by producing microalgae at reduced costs while treating water and capturing CO2 from the air. This concept will increase the circularity and profitability of microalgal production and soilless farming.

Coordinator: Necton

Period: July 2022 – June 2026

Funding Scheme: Horizon Europe