Cargill is partnering with Algae Natural Food, a young biotech firm based near Strasbourg, France, on a project to grow organic microalgae in the city's Rhine River port, according to Food Ingredients 1st.
The first project of its kind in France, the green partnership will transform CO2 and water used in Cargill's malt processing plant into a source of energy and nutrients needed for the algae-growing process.
The initiative will reuse 10% of Cargill's waste water, recycle heat from the malting process, and reduce the plant's CO2 emissions by 5%.
Algae Natural Foods' primary product is spirulina, a blue-green algae superfood that is “arguably the most nutritious food on the planet.” It's also a traditional food in several parts of the world, including Mexico and parts of Africa.
This type of algae has been cultivated and harvested for many years to be used as a thickening agent in cooking, and is still used today for that purpose in products like chocolate milk and ice cream. The global algae business today is booming, however, because of the many food ingredients that can be gleaned from this plant.
Many manufacturers rely on spirulina as a source for omega-3 fatty acids, a nutrient that humans cannot produce themselves but that can bolster growth and brain function and reduce heart disease. Consumers have traditionally had to get their omega-3s from salmon and other seafood such as tuna and shrimp, but algae — and algae harvesting projects such as the Cargill/Algae Natural Foods partnership — can source this ingredient more sustainably.
The Cargill/Algae Natural Foods project points to two important trends that indirectly impact the ingredients market. First, in recycling the Cargill plant's water, the initiative demonstrates that useful products can be obtained in ways that are environment-friendly. The partnership also shows, by example, a type of cooperative venture that could cut ingredient costs in a way is responsible and sensitive to the balance of nature.
Though this project is innovative in its transformation of processing plant waste into "food" for algae, Cargill is not the first company to expand into this industry. There are several companies in the United States and Australia that are developing commercial facilities to produce ingredients derived from spirulina used in probiotic food and beverage products and baby formulas. This new tech makes the algae growing process easier and more sustainable, and will likely spur more companies to get involved as the probiotic health craze grows.