Nowhere in Norway produces more carbon dioxide emissions than Mongstad. That’s exactly why the pilot test centre Nasjonal Algepilot Mongstad (NAM) has been located at the Nordhordland refinery. This extensive pilot project uses carbon dioxide combined with sunlight and saltwater to produce large quantities of fantastically healthy microalgae.
The algae pilot is owned by the University of Bergen (UiB). Partnering the UiB in this project are Uni Research and CO2Bio, a company owned by Marine Harvest, Lerøy Seafood, EWOS, Salmon Group and Grieg Seafood, as well as Uni Research, Bergen Teknologioverføring (BTO) and the Nordhordland Business Association.
“We got underway here last November. We have now got beyond the first test phase and are already producing larger quantities of microalgae than we calculated that we would at this point in time. We are very optimistic about the process moving forward,” says research director Hans Kleivdal at Uni Research.
The final product is omega-3-rich microalgae, which can be used for human food and dietary supplements, but are particularly interesting as a new source of omega-3 in fish feed.
The microalgae were originally collected from the edge of the polar icecap, where conditions are harsh enough for the algae to have developed the particular properties that scientists are searching for. At the Mongstad test facility, they are given carbon dioxide, seawater, nutrients and sunlight. Their growth rate is colossal.
“Optimal microalgae have a productivity up to 50 times higher than land-growing plants. We believe almost 100 tonnes of microalgae per hectare can be cultured each year. In many cases, they can replace fish oil, soya and rapeseed,” Kleivdal explains.
The process is extremely climate-friendly, not only because it uses carbon dioxide, but also because, globally, freshwater and arable land may come to be in short supply.
“We also believe that the inorganic fertilisers we use today can be replaced by food waste, insect droppings or the muck that collects under the net cages at fish farms. Use of waste streams in this way would also be important for profitability when developing a new ‘green’ value chain.”
Carbon dioxide or CO2 is a fundamental part of the global carbon cycle. It is also a natural component of the air we breathe and an important greenhouse gas. Human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, has increased the proportion of CO2 in the atmosphere. This increase boosts the natural greenhouse effect, which is – in turn – the reason for today’s global warming. CO2 is absorbed by plants and algae by means of photosynthesis.
Everyone has omega-3 fatty acids in all their cells. The marine omega-3 fatty acids have documented benefits for human health. They are important for blood pressure, boost brain function and eyesight, and they can have an anti-inflammatory effect, particularly in connection with arthritis. The body produces only small amounts of omega-3 itself, so it is important to supply it with marine omega-3 fatty acids by eating oily fish, cod liver oil or other fish oils. Most of the omega-3 in the sea is produced by algae.