The Commission’s Joint Research Centre has released a new section on its Knowledge for Policy pages, specifically dedicated to algae. The webpage contains facts and figures about algae biomass production in Europe, including a dashboard with production locations. It also links up to ongoing research projects, recent publications and other useful information.
The term ‘algae’ covers two things. Either we are talking about single-celled microalgae or bacteria, which are cultivated in open ponds or closed systems – the tubes with bright green fluids that you sometimes see in the science pages. Or it means macroalgae, commonly referred to as seaweeds. Macroalgae can be cultivated in aquaculture systems or harvested from wild stocks. Algae are incredibly versatile. We can use them for food and feed, cosmetics, pharmaceutics, plastics, fertilisers and fuels, and we continue to discover new applications.
No wonder algae biomass production has been on the rise worldwide already since the 1950s. In the EU, however, they still represent a largely untapped resource. In 2016, EU algae biomass production contributed only 0.28% to the global production. But production is picking up and production plants are meanwhile present in most EU countries. As a renewable, low-carbon feedstock, with great potential to create new markets and jobs – not in the least in coastal areas – they will play a major role in the sustainable growth ambition of the European Green Deal. Not just for carbon-neutrality, but also biodiversity, circular economy and the Farm to Fork strategy for a sustainable food system.
Worldwide, algae are mainly cultivated. In Europe however, 98% of macroalgae biomass has been harvested from wild stocks in 2016, although aquaculture systems are becoming more common.
Wild harvesting is not without risk though. The abundance of several commercially exploited species in Europe has already decreased in some regions due to excessive harvesting. Also global warming, poor water quality and the introduction of non-native species play a role in their decline. Therefore, it is necessary to ensure that algae resources are exploited in a sustainable way.
In 2022, the European Commission will present a strategy on algae to promote their sustainable production and consumption, so keep an eye on our upcoming consultations!
- Publication date
- 12 March 2021
- Directorate-General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries