Similar to the way solar panels generate electricity, scientists are cultivating the bio-organisms on a panelling system that can be installed on buildings or land, but instead of electricity, these panels produce microscopic plant life that can produce nutritious ingredients for food and purify the surrounding air.

As you might expect, these panels are bright green because, just like other photosynthetic organisms, the microalgae, diatoms and phytoplankton cultivated in the panels use sunlight, water and carbon dioxide to make the food they need to live and grow – the process of photosynthesis. And in the process of photosynthesis, they release oxygen into the air.

British start-up Arborea, says that biosolar leaves grown on panels taking up the surface area of a single tree can clean the air at the same rate as 100 actual trees. In addition, their production of organic biomass can be made into ingredients for plant-based and sustainable food products.

It’s an exciting prospect of using nature to address the problems of both air pollution and food security as researchers studying microalgae cultivation believe it has the potential to offer a sustainable solution to the problem of how to feed a growing global population. In fact, because microalgae cultivation uses only a fraction of the water and land needed for livestock and crops, and grows quickly, microalgae are being suggested as a food solution for the future.

Edible algae, such as seaweed, has been eaten in China, Japan and Korea for hundreds of years. However, microalgae species are rapidly gaining interest around the world as an alternative source of antioxidants, protein and other nutrients – though microalgae like spirulina and chlorella can already be found in nutritional supplements: snack bars, pasta, ice-cream and smoothies to name a few.

Predictions are that by 2050 there will be nearly 10 billion people to feed – an increase of 3 billion from 2010, which translates into a demand for 70% more food than is consumed today. The ‘System Initiative on Shaping the Future of Food’ from the World Economic Forum is looking at ways to transform our current food system while protecting both our, and our planet’s health.

 

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