Consumers are being encouraged to make one or more days a week meat-free for environmental and health reasons; and reducing the meat content in ready meals and other prepared foods can help food manufacturers curb saturated fat levels in their products, as well as bring cost savings.
While a number of useful meat alernatives are already available on the market, such as soy, wheat and Quorn, Dutch research institute TNO has spied a new opportunity to extract proteins from coldwater algae, which it believes could herald a new, environmentally-friendly, source of protein and a meat analogue.
Part of the drive in reducing meat consumption stems from the carbon emission associated with rearing livestock to meet the protein needs of a growing population; algae, on the other hand, consumers carbon dioxide, as well as nitrate and phosphate.
Moreover, algae can also be a good source of omega-3 and omega-6 oils, making up as much as 30 per cent of its mass. At present most long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (DHA and EPA) come from fish sources, but there is growing interest in non-fish sources due to sustainability questions.
Ronald Korstanje, business development manager for the project at TNO, told FoodNavigator.com that at present, most initiatives for the initiatives related to algae exploitation are geared towards using the oils as fuel. Some trials have been conducted with cars and even aeroplanes running on algae oil, but the industry is still in its infancy.
As for carbohydrates from algae, little is known about their potential, but the partners aim to change that.
During the two year project TNO will develop technologies for extracting and refining oils, proteins and carbohydrates from algae. Ingrepro Renewables, for its part, is responsible for production of algae and setting up the biorefinery process.
The project has received funding from them a special biorefinery scheme of the Dutch Ministry of Agriculture, Nature and Food Quality. Its total cost will be €1.2m.
Korstanje said the intention at the end of the two year study is to set up a pilot biorefinery system for the ingredients. It will then take at least an additional year of working on industrial feasibility before any resulting ingredients are ready for the market.