Harvesting Green Gold of the era

Green gold of the era, I am talking about, you can consume food, feed your animals, fuel your cars and aeroplanes, clean up your environment or even take as medicine. Interested to learn about this gold not of golden but of green color?

For centuries, humans have been exploring the gold-the expensive metal used for trade and decor, and perceived as an indicator of wealth. But that’s not the only gold we have been blessed by nature.

On exploring the hidden secrets of nature, man came to learn about green, thick, clingy, microscopic species—known as microalgae. These plant like organisms exist individually, or in chains or groups. They are small creatures of a few micrometers to a few hundred micrometers.

Actually they originated 3 million years ago on planet earth but were regarded as green gold in the last century because of the sheer number of products that can be produced is virtually unlimited. It is green but it is gold.

NASA considers microalgae (Spirulina) as “an excellent, compact space food for astronauts”.

Why to cultivate Green Gold?

According to Transparency Market Research, global algal market in 2015 was US$ 608 million and is projected to be US$ 1.1 billion in 2024. There has been a lot of research articles on cultivating the microalgae in Pakistan in terms of biofuel.

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But apart from the biomass production to produce biofuel, they offer a rich amount of proteins, vitamins and functional lipids which have an enormous use in the food and pharmaceutical industry.

Apart humans have been using them as a source of food since centuries. The modern tools and inventions have made this green gold of the era much more accessible than before. 

For example, Chinese and Japanese people are the first ones to have consumed them since 2000 years and still. Their use include imparting food textures, colors, flavors, essentials ingredients etc.

If you like Asian cuisine then you may have already eaten it without noticing the deliciousness it offers i.e. the famous dish “Sushi” contains a portion of microalgae. If you are fitness enthusiast and consume whey protein then congratulations you also already have savored the flavor.

Feasibility

Apart from financial benefits, they are easy to cultivate. Given that Pakistan is blessed by natural sunlight and excellent environmental condition, they can be easily grown.

They even have the ability to grow on non-arable land. We do not need to look far as our neighbor country—Bangladesh, is already running several projects on it. 

The other benefit is that they reduce the CO2 gas emissions and thereby cleaning the environment. Few countries are also using them for wastewater treatment. They are renewable, organic and without any harmful effects for the people working with them.

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Succeeding Economic Carter

The nutraceutical industry is the next economy carter. The industry is incorporating microalgae because of their extremely fast production and lower costs. The second big reason is their organic origin. There are evidences that Japanese and the other people have been using them as medicine in local medicines since centuries. Even the algal natural dyes promise the unravelling benefits both in medical and cosmetics sectors.

WHO calls Spirulina as “one of the greatest superfoods on earth”

There are various formats for cultivating the green gold of the era depending upon the resources and purpose of cultivation. Open systems—cultivation of microalgae in an open pond under sun light, are considered the cheap ones while the closed culture systems—cultivating in bioreactors, offer benefit of avoiding contamination with a bit more price. There also exist hybrid systems for their production.

According to James W. Richardson professor in Texas A&M University USA, the total cost of production for crude bio-oil is 109 $ gal− 1 for an open system while 77 gal− 1 for a closed system.

While the production cost for cultivation of pigments like omega-3, β-carotene etc. will vary. As comparison to expenses of conventional cropping and sky rocketing prices of fertilizers this green gold cultivation option is favorable in the limited resources available.

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Forget about enormous amounts of nutrients, fertilizers, infrastructures and feeds for growing microalgae. All you need is to ensure CO2 and sunlight—they are autotrophs and prepare their own food, with few basic nutrients supplied in the water. Even one can grow them in his fish tank in the house just as a hobby. And you can have your own green gold of the era. Is not it that easy? 

Are microalgae or their products safe to consume?

Yes, they are 100% safe because they are just like plants. Their consumption is like that of ingesting a plant/fruit of organic origin. Even several microalgae products have been already approved according to the regulations in force. USA, Europe, China and Japan are the leading markets of edible products of microalgae.

Green light for Green Gold or not?

With the booming demand in global market and the associated potential benefits, make this green gold worth a try. Moreover, there is need of commercial regulation in Pakistan and that too with the growing demand will be created and implemented.

Currently, around the globe research is being conducted on the use of microalgae as support systems for astronauts. The world is calling the microalgae “The Future Food”, we need to pay attention to this green gold of the era if we want to stay in the game.

Ali Ahmad

Ali Ahmad

A bio-technologist with interest in agriculture, environment and sustainable development. I like to talk about the world class research and the modern technologies that are shaping today's agriculture for the future generations.

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