Single cells as sources for alternative protein

Microorganisms, macro solutions

Single cells as sources for alternative protein

Microorganisms, macro solutions

It is estimated that the world will need an extra 265 million tons of protein by the middle of the century, so the race is on to find sustainable sources. Considering arable land restrictions and need for CO2 neutral solutions, single-cell protein sources offer an interesting approach to the challenge of sustainable protein supply for food and feed. It has been estimated that single cells hold the potential to meet up to 20% of conventional crop-based animal feed protein demand by 2050.

Well-known examples are microalgae – small aquatic single cell organisms. An estimated 200,000 to 500,000 microalgae species exist in nature. This great variety of microalgae strains opens a broad resource pool and novel routes to produce high quality protein.  Microalgae can also be used to produce lipids, pigments, and other valuable compounds. Over 20 microalgae species are currently commercially used in animal and human nutrition.


Micro statistics

Protein content
Some algae, such as such as spirulina, can consist of up to 70% protein.
Algae species
And some estimates put the number as high as 1 million.

Releasing the potential

Only a tiny proportion of microalgae and microorganisms are currently used for food. Their rapid growth and independence from arable land, make them an interesting alternative to conventional crops bound to agricultural land. With singe-cell organisms such as Dunaliella, Spirulina, or Chlorella containing up to 70% protein, along with being oil rich in polyunsaturated fatty acids, vitamins, and beta-carotene, the potential for application into the food and feed industry is vast.

Bühler is active in the cellular agriculture value chain at different levels. We partner with the industry and help integrate these novel ingredients into attractive products. One example is our partnership with start-ups to develop algae as an ingredient in food products such as pasta with an increase protein content. Integration of novel ingredients into texturized meat and fish analog products is another route to enable the development of nutritionally valuable sustainable diets. 

Additionally, our wet grinding solutions can be used to release microalgae components. This process provides a cost and energy-efficient means of rupturing algae cell walls to enable compound extraction, essential for industrial applications.

Beyond this, Bühler is actively engaging with the industry and academia to bring forward novel technological solutions to enable the potential of single cell as mini factories for food and feed. Can we help you? Contact us!

Microalgae could make a significant contribution to closing the upcoming protein gap. According to the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization, 30 million tons of algae are produced each year worldwide. Efforts are currently underway to expand the market as the production is forecasted to grow.

Erika Georget, Head of Food Bioprocessing

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