Expanding Food Production and Biomass Benefits

Through smart management and research and development by federal and state agriculture agencies, the yields of many crops have increased over the years, resulting in more protein and biomass for a variety of uses.
By Matt Carr | December 22, 2015

Biomass business leaders need to be familiar with the food challenges facing the globe today. It is widely predicted that world food production must increase by 60 percent before 2050, today’s food is not produced where it is most needed, fish stocks are overexploited, and climate change is degrading agricultural zones around the world.

These pressures make it clear that the world doesn’t just need more food—we need better food. What are the possible responses to these challenges, and how will biomass industries be impacted?

The good news is that through smart management and research and development by federal and state agriculture agencies, the yields of many crops have increased over the years, resulting in more protein and biomass for a variety of uses. Sadly, these advances may not be enough to satisfy the demand for biomass for food, fuel and other products.

People are demanding more, and higher quality from their agricultural products. Demand for meat, and the feed to produce it, has been rising in the developing world for decades, and more recent skyrocketing production in developing nations portends a future where protein demand will butt against what today’s farming technologies can supply.

In the next decade alone, we may require around 250 million additional acres to support the expected increase in protein production. Harnessing this much land will be difficult, and those who can perfect technologies that produce the most protein with the fewest inputs may have the most interesting futures. Existing crops will have to improve production, but alternative sources will inevitably need to step up to the plate.

Algae is getting ready. In the past few years, hundreds of new algae products have hit the market. Algae-based foods like cooking oils and flours have been received well by consumers. Algae-based animal feeds have tested off the charts. In the case of algae-based feeds alone, compared to traditional feeds, they have less than 10 percent of the carbon footprint, they use less than 10 percent of the land requirements, and they have less than 20 percent of the water impact.

For human consumption, hitting shelves are new algae products that don’t look at all like the kelp chips you find in the supermarket. Solazyme recently introduced an algae-derived cooking oil with a mild flavor profile, high cooking temperature and an insanely high ratio of heart healthy monounsaturated fats.

Algae will continue carving out niches, and over time. it will evolve into a more dominant feedstock for many foods and animal feed products. Yet this doesn’t mean that other biomass crops will languish. The strength of global demand leaves plenty of room for soy, wheat, corn, brown rice and other crops to expand their market share substantially.

The result could be greatly expanding supplies of biomass. Higher corn and wheat yields mean more crop residues that can be harnessed for cellulosic biofuels and others markets. In the algae industry, we see the innovation required to address food challenges as an opportunity for all of agriculture. Expanded agricultural research to meet global challenges will also empower a new generation to grow new crops, build new businesses, and develop new products for markets clamoring for solutions.

Existing crops have been greatly improved, but similar research and development for new crops must also be part of the equation. Among those new crops is algae, and as more marketable products prove their potential, the payoff for expanded development efforts will become even more obvious.


Author: Matt Carr
Executive Director, Algae Biomass Organization
mcarr@algaebiomass.org
877-531-5512