Developments in Algae Protein Commercialization

Originally Published: August 5, 2016
Last Updated: February 28, 2021
Spirulina, a type of algae, is a superfood used as a food supplement source of vitamin protein and beta carotene, but may soon find more commercial use given consumer demand for sustainable protein sources..

August 5, 2016—Algae have picked up a great deal of commercial momentum in recent years. There are over 50,000 species—from microscopic organisms to large seaweed—and all are exceptionally fast growing and productive. Crops of some mature in hours or days, instead of months or years. They have some of the lowest carbon, water and arable land footprints of any crop, according to Matt Carr, Ph.D., Executive Director of Algae Biomass Organization, and the Pre-Conference’s “Special Focus” presenter of developments in alga protein commercialization.

The U.S. Department of Energy is leading the “algae charge” in the U.S. In 2009, it invested $100 million in algae biorefinery projects. Every year since, it has spent $25-30 million on research and development of algae-based biofuels.

“Along the way, a surprising thing happened,” Carr said. “Companies discovered what many societies have known for a long time. Not only are algae productive, they have things other than oil that could be of interest to consumer markets—in particular, protein content.”

The recent demand for protein is “stressing our land [and] thinning our seas, and Mother Nature isn’t cooperating,” Carr said, referring to global climate change. “It’s time to get back to basics: specifically, the use of one of the earliest life forms as
a source of protein.”

On average, algae generally matches or exceeds other feedstock protein crops in desired components, except sugar/starch content,  where corn is still “king.” That said, algae is relatively new to the protein realm and is mostly found in powdered forms for nutritional supplements.

The “grand daddy” of algae protein strains is spirulina, a 60%+ complete protein with powerful antioxidants like astaxanthin. It has a more than 30-year history in the nutritional supplement market and has more recently moved into the beverage market, with products like Naked Juice.

In the 40s and 50s, the green algae chlorella was considered a solution to the global food crises. It now is a nutritional supplement and protein flour that Carr says has a lot of potential in fermentation-derived products.

Researchers continue to experiment with what Carr calls “the next generation of agriculture,” by using algae for natural pigments/coloring and feed for salmon, carp, shrimp, broiler chicks and weanling pigs.

“Consumer demand is driving the new wave of innovation in algae protein,” Carr said. “There are exciting new products entering the market, including algal flour and natural pigments, and this multi-product model that’s emerging will likely enable
further growth.”

Matt Carr, Ph.D., Executive Director, Algae Biomass Organization, +1.877.531.5512,,

The summary above is an excerpt from the “2015 Protein Trends & Technologies Seminar Business Highlights Magazine.”