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Converting clean energy into sustainable microalgae-based feed ingredients for fish aquaculture

An EIT Food funded project utilised a novel cutting-edge technology to harness the power of clean energy sources and natural carbon dioxide (CO₂) for the cultivation of microalgae as a sustainable source of ingredients for the aquafeed industry.

11 Aug 2023
EIT Food West

What will you learn?

In this case study you will learn about:

  1. Why microalgae offer a sustainable alternative to capture fish and soya as a source for aquafeed ingredients.
  2. How an EIT Food funded project overcame the current challenges associated with producing microalgae by using a new production technology and circular economy approach.
  3. The resulting economic and environmental benefits offered by this new system.

Feed accounts for 50-70% of fish farming production costs, and the average price of ingredients frequently used in aquafeed is regularly increasing (1). As such, finding alternatives that are inexpensive, easy to produce, and sustainable is crucial. We introduce a new approach to producing microalgae-based aquafeed that is sustainably produced.

What are microalgae?

Microalgae are photosynthetic microorganisms that utilise atmospheric carbon dioxide (CO2) and sunlight energy to produce a variety of proteins, carbohydrates, lipids such as omega-3, minerals, vitamins, polyphenols, flavonoids, and carotenoids. Microalgae occur naturally in oceans and freshwater across the world, providing nutrient rich, abundant food sources for fish. In aquaculture microalgae can be used as live biomass, dried powder or provide raw ingredients for aquafeeds.

Challenges – European aquaculture is restricted by unsustainable sources of feed that are costly

European aquaculture is limited by the availability and expense of feed. Conventional sources such as fishmeal derived from wild capture fish or ingredients from soya are ecologically harmful, expensive and are typically imported from outside Europe. By contrast, microalgae, which are a rich source of protein, lipids (Omega-3) and other nutrients, grow fast, and can provide an excellent sustainable and scalable source of ingredients for aquafeed.

However, conventional microalgae cultivation is challenging as it occurs outdoors, requiring large masses of land and water. In addition to contamination risks, the process is also susceptible to variations in weather and affected by environmental factors, such as pH value, light intensity, nutrient availability, CO2 supply, water mixing and temperature.

Solution – microalgae produced using a green-energy powered technology provide a sustainable option

A new cutting-edge technology platform that is specially designed to leverage the clean, natural outputs of geothermal plants in Iceland, is enabling microalgae growth indoors, completely independent of the weather conditions outside. The automated microalgae production is sustainable, converting clean energy into feed (2,3).

Technology underpinning microalgae production platform

The EIT Food project designed and optimised a microalgae production process using a new cultivation technology, proprietary to Vaxa.

The microalgae production unit is modular and was located in state-of-the-art, bio-secure facilities near the Hellisheidi Geothermal Power Plant. Microalgae growth was supported by natural outputs from the Plant such as renewable energy to power the production process including the generation of artificial light, cold and hot non-marine water, and carbon dioxide.

The algae were continually monitored to support optimal growth. Once the algae were ready for harvesting, they were analysed for a number of parameters, including nutritional profile.

Results and future outlook – a new quality aquafeed source

The production process developed during the project provided a consistent, quality assured year-round supply of microalgae, rich in protein and omega-3 to serve as a sustainable source of raw materials for fish feed.

In aquaculture feeding trials, juvenile salmon had improved growth and an overall improvement of their nutritional composition.

Currently the project team is adapting the new production unit by developing an automation system to facilitate upscaling and the use of different microalgae strains. The aim is to produce sufficient aquafeed per year (estimated 10.5 tonnes/annum) to be commercially viable.

Market and supply chain logistics

The intention is to sell the aquafeed to professional local distributors in Iceland who are well connected to the European fishery industry’s main players who would then import, store and deliver the product to the hatcheries or sell directly to the larger hatcheries. Subsequently the product portfolio will be sold on-line, with a direct purchasing option through a website.

Environmental advantages of using green energy and a circular economy approach

  • Producing 1 ton of fermented microalgae by conventional approaches requires over 3,400m2 of fertile land and 5million litres of fresh water. By comparison, the new system requires less than 1% of fresh water and less than 1% of land footprint.
  • The production process has a negative carbon footprint, meaning it uses CO2 for the algae growth and as a result, more CO2 goes into the production of the biomass than it releases into the atmosphere. 

About the project consortium – a powerful combination of complementary knowledge, skills and capabilities

Matis Ltd. Project Lead

Matis has extensive experience in developing and evaluating novel raw materials for feed and food, nutrient analyses and in vivo testing in fish trials.

Project role: Microalgae evaluation, Salmonid nutrition, feed formulation and aquaculture potential assessment.

Siemens AG

Siemens focuses on the areas of electrification, automation and digitalization.

Project role: Engineering of production facility automation, digitalization concept for production facility, implementation of control equipment, automation solution and digitalization concept.

Vaxa Technologies Ltd./

Vaxa is an international technology start-up developing new technologies for the production of microalgae. The company has developed a disruptive new technology platform perfecting the cultivation of Omega-3 rich microalgae.

Project role: Developed a modular algae production process and scalable automation allowing for autonomous operation.

Waitrose Limited

Retail end of key food supply chains and part of John Lewis partnership. Commits to improvements in product quality and healthiness, transparent supply chains, energy consumption, greenhouse gas emissions, waste reduction.

Project role: Market feasibility and sensory testing, management of large-scale Atlantic salmon trial through supply chain collaborators.


  1. All About Feed: Microalgae sustainable food source for fish.
  2. Industrial Biotechnology: The future of feed: integrating technologies to decouple feed production from environmental impacts.
  3. Bioengineered: An overview of microalgae biomass as a sustainable aquaculture feed ingredient: food security and circular economy.

Learn more about our partner Vaxa and its ambitions that extend to convert clean energy into microalgae as a source of sustainable food in our podcast here.

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