Wageningen scientists in Mexico are studying how efficiently algae can extract nutrients from the residual water from vegetable greenhouses. These algae are a good raw material for chickens and – eventually – eggs rich in omega-3. Project leader Dorinde Kleinegris from Wageningen UR explains the development of this sustainable production chain.
“In Mexico many capsicums and tomatoes are grown in vegetable greenhouses,” says Dorinde Kleinegris. “A large percentage of these products are intended for the American market, which is constantly increasing the sustainability requirements for production. Take the example of the groundwater used for cultivation. There is a water shortage in Mexico and water can only be reused a few times before it becomes too saline. We want to use this saline water for algae, some varieties of which take well to salt. An added benefit is that they can extract nutrients from artificial fertiliser more efficiently than capsicum and tomato plants. In fact, we expect algae to remove the last remaining nutrients.”
Algae as chicken feed
As the algae used by the scientists are naturally rich in omega-3 fatty acids, they want to use this raw material for chicken feed. “In addition to omega-3 fatty acids, the algae also contain components which have a positive impact on the resistance of chickens and can therefore increase their lifespan,” Kleinegris continues. “The eggs would then also contain more omega-3, which adds to their market value. Another benefit of the algae is that they contain a high level of protein, making them a good alternative for soy. In this project we are working with our partners to see how we can build an economically and technically feasible production chain.”
Dry biomass to Wageningen
The research will start in April 2016 in an area northwest of Mexico City where algae reactors are fed with water from the greenhouses. Kleinegris: “We will be studying how the algae grow, whether an additional purification stage is needed, and how many nutrients they extract. If sufficient biomass is produced, we will ship the dry biomass to our lab in Wageningen to study how chickens digest the algae, how much algae we should feed them, and how many nutrients eventually end up in the eggs.”
Kleinegris believes it is possible to develop a successful production chain. “Algae farming costs are currently around five euros per hectare, depending on the scale and the land used. If we can get the cost price below five euros per hectare it should be feasible, especially as the market value of the chicken and eggs is higher.”
Wageningen UR is working on this project with its Mexican partners Finka, Rancho Medio Kilo, the Universidad Autónoma de Querétaro, and Dutch partners Schothorst Feed Research, Rondeel BV and Van Hall Larenstein. The Wageningen UR departments involved are Food & Biobased Research and Livestock Research.