- Limited agricultural land calls for innovative food production to ensure food security.
- Singapore, a city with a scarcity of agricultural land, is looking to grow 30 per cent of its total food needs locally and sustainably by 2030. This offers huge potential for novel proteins such as heterotrophic microalgae-based protein.
- The new ‘Urban Microalgae-Based Protein Production’ project is set to establish a resilient and sustainable agri-food platform in a step towards more sustainable food systems and greater food security. The project is led by the Singapore-ETH Centre, together with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Agency for Science Technology and Research’s (A*STAR’s) Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI).
- Taking a whole value-chain approach, the project combines emerging microalgae concepts with technological and process innovation, with a clear goal of developing a tangible food product concept.
It is projected that by 2050, up to 68 per cent of the total human population will live in urban areas. With a limited amount of land for agricultural production in cities, innovative food systems are required for food security.
While the demand for conventional sources of protein, such as meat and seafood, remains high, the production of these proteins tends to be resource-intensive and puts a strain on the environment. In recent years, meat and seafood alternatives have become more commonly available. However, many alternatives tend to use soy or wheat as key ingredients, meaning considerable land resources are still required to produce them.
In Singapore, the ambitious ‘30 by 30’ target calls for an increase in capability and capacity to grow 30 per cent of total food needs locally and sustainably by 2030. In the highly urbanised and land-scarce city, meeting this goal through traditional food production methods alone will be challenging.
Urban Microalgae-Based Protein Production’ project by Singapore-ETH Centre
The new ‘Urban Microalgae-Based Protein Production’ project, which starts on 1 January 2022, is set to establish a resilient and sustainable agri-food platform in a step towards more sustainable food systems and greater food security. The project is led by the Singapore-ETH Centre, together with the National University of Singapore (NUS) and Agency for Science Technology and Research’s (A*STAR’s) Singapore Institute of Food and Biotechnology Innovation (SIFBI).
“Microalgae-based food products are good sources of protein, with a high protein content of up to 70 per cent, vitamins, well-balanced amino acid profiles, and good ratios of polyunsaturated fatty acids. What is currently needed to make them more commercially viable are innovative processes that improve the eco-efficiency and productivity of microalgae supply chains,” says Prof. Alexander Mathys, lead principal investigator of the project in Singapore, and Assistant Professor of Sustainable Food Processing at ETH Zurich.
The ‘Urban Microalgae-Based Protein Production’ project will produce bright yellow microalgae-based protein concentrates in an urban setting under heterotrophic conditions (in the absence of light). Furthermore, the project will incorporate consumer insights to innovate food concepts to better meet consumer needs and preferences.
Not just a product but a circular system
“The goal of this project is not only to develop nutritious microalgae-based seafood alternatives but also to establish a platform to produce them efficiently in an urban facility and in a cost-effective way, by using process technologies such as extrusion and 3D printing,” says Associate Professor Liu Shao Quan from the Department of Food Science and Technology at NUS, who is the second lead principal investigator in this project. “By capturing organic nutrients from the side streams of processing tofu, beer or other food products, our approach embodies sustainable circular economy concepts in food production,” he adds.
Taking a whole value-chain approach, the project combines emerging microalgae concepts with technological and process innovation, with a clear goal of developing a tangible food product concept. As a matter of fact, some meat and seafood alternatives have at times met with low consumer acceptance when cost, nutrition, taste, texture, and smell were not sufficiently tailored to the preferences of the local market. Therefore, the team will not only develop emerging food concepts in a laboratory and establish innovative processes for industrial production but also strive for consumer acceptance and commercial viability.
Not just a one-man show but a food cluster
The researchers will take a reverse engineering approach, incorporating consumer insights and collaborating with Swiss and Singapore-based food producers such as Nestlé and ingredient processing companies such as Bühler, Givaudan, Planted Foods, and Sophie’s Bionutrients to co-create food concepts. The Singapore Food Agency will play an advisory role and provide feedback on the project’s R&D direction and decisions.
Based in Singapore, the three-year research project is supported by the National Research Foundation, Singapore (NRF) under its Campus for Research Excellence and Technological Enterprise (CREATE) programme.
(This article was previously published as a press release by SEC and has been reproduced for release on nextrends Asia.)