Fish not only tastes great but it is also good for you. It provides the body with important nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals. The omega-3 fatty acids in oily fish are good for the heart, brain and immune system. Most of the fish on our plates comes from fisheries or aquaculture. Farm-raised salmon are fed on marine resources such as fish-meal and fish-oil, which are both derived from wild-caught fish. However, the world’s fish reserves are depleting due to overfishing. Norway´s aquaculture and the world´s biggest salmon-farming industry, together with researchers and innovative start-ups, will go to great lengths to secure feed for farmed fish. The goal is to create an aquaculture industry using sustainable sources of feed that will no longer require wild-caught fish while at the same time minimizing pollution from fish farms.
The Norwegian cities of Bergen and Stavanger have even become a Silicon Valley of the Sea. Here, the current research focuses on the use of algae in fish feed. Microalgae are rich in omega-3 fatty acids and other nutrients such as protein, vitamins and minerals, and therefore provide many additional health benefits. A pioneer in research is the University of Bergen (UiB), who operates together with NORCE (Norwegian research centre) and the company CO2Bio AS a pilot plant for algae production (National microAlgae pilot Mongstad, NAM). The plant is co-located with the worlds’ largest carbon capture test plant Technology Center Mongstad, north of Bergen, and started operations in early 2017. The plant is designed to test and cultivate on a pilot scale different microalgae with high levels of omega-3, transforming CO2 in the process. “The new research facility provides the basis for developing more knowledge about the full value chain in the sea, from the right choice of microalgae to the production of omega-3 fatty acids”, explains Hans Kleivdal, Research Director at NORCE and professor at UiB, who is at the same time the academic coordinator for the project.
The team of scientists from UiB, NORCE and operators from CO2Bio (a joint venture company owned by large aquaculture companies) have proved that the captured carbon dioxide from Equinor’s refinery can be used to grow algae, which in turn can be used as a fish feed ingredient to replace fish oil. Svein Nordvik, Managing Director of CO2Bio, is firmly convinced that “algae grown in greenhouses like this one could revolutionize fish farming”.
The facility has two buildings, a greenhouse for biomass production and an operations building with a laboratory and processing equipment. At the heart of the project plant are photobioreactors (PBR) in which microalgae are produced through the process of photosynthesis, the combination of nutrients, water, light and CO2. All the PBR systems used for research on algae cultivation come from LGem, a company based in Rotterdam in the Netherlands. Engineers at LGem are experts in the design and manufacture of tailormade and turnkey microalgae photobioreactors that are scalable and easy to operate. “We are happy to see the wonderful job that our Norwegian partners are performing by using our systems in order to make their industries and aquaculture more sustainable”, says Sander Hazewinkel, Chief Commercial Officer at LGem b.v. “We hope that our photobioreactor and process design with state-of-the-art glass components will bring a sustainable aquaculture an important step forward.” LGem uses DURAN® borosilicate glass tubing from SCHOTT in its closed PBR systems. It allows for optimum light input for the highest growth rates and provide reliable and long-lasting solutions for bio-secure algae cultivation. “The glass really makes a difference in the success factor of GemTube™ systems – additionally the Norwegian Silicon Valley of the Sea could benefit from this now”, says Hazewinkel.
The challenge for the microalgae team at the National microAlgae pilot Mongstad will be to continue to improve the production process and find even better algae to further decrease the cost price of production at industrial scale and consequently to make these microalgae a commercially viable ingredient for salmon feed. Furthermore, other higher value products within aquaculture are tested (e.g. feed for copepods and rotifers) to achieve a shorter-term commercially viable microalgae production. Gradually, this will contribute to the success of the Norwegian aquaculture.