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The algae data theme gets a revamp

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Our most loyal readers surely remember a blog post we published two years ago titled “Algae, the next big thing in the blue economy”. It was a short interview with Rita Araújo to present a new data set on algae production facilities in Europe. Rita is Scientific / Technical Projects Assistant at the Joint Research Centre of the European Commission, and she coordinated the data collection effort that culminated in the submission of a data set to the EMODnet Data Ingestion portal.

Two years later, as EMODnet is about to be entering a new phase, not only did that data set receive a massive update, but it was also complemented with an entirely new data set on spirulina production. Once more, this was the result of amazing cooperation between the JRC, EMODnet Human Activities and EMODnet Data Ingestion.

And guess who’s come to pay a visit…? Rita, who else?

EMODnet Human Activities: Welcome back Rita, it’s always a pleasure to have you as our guest! Two years ago on this blog, you unveiled the first Europe-wide overview of algae-producing facilities; lately, the data sets have received a massive update, would you briefly tell us what’s new in this latest version?

Rita Araújo: Hi, it is a pleasure to be here again to talk about the latest developments of the JRC algae dataset. During the last 2 years JRC made an effort to increase the quality of the mapping of the algae production facilities which included the launch of a survey with the industry and a consultation with experts. Resulting from this work the number of algae companies in our database almost duplicated including now more than 200 macro- and microalgae companies spread between 17 countries. The updated version includes also some new categories of data such as the species produced by each company which adds interesting information to the global understanding of the sector in Europe.

HA: Do you have a ballpark estimate of how much of the European market we’re covering right now? How far are we from mapping all producers?

RA: I would say that this last updated database corresponds already to a very significant share of the total algae producers in Europe. We need to keep in mind that only companies with production units in Europe are considered and that, being an emerging sector, the rate of creation of new companies is high. Apart from these variables, this version of the database provides a very good picture of the current situation of the algae production sector in Europe.

HA: The big news is that we now also have an entirely new data set on spirulina production. What is spirulina, why is everybody talking about it and when can our users expect to see this data set online?

RA: Spirulina (in fact the currently accepted name is Arthrospira) is a cyanobacteria, traditionally used in western human nutrition since the 1970s.  Spirulina is frequently referred to as a “super food” given its nutritional properties (high content in vitamins and minerals, highly digestive proteins, polysaccharides and lipids) and it is receiving increasing attention from European consumers searching for healthy and sustainable diets.

The dataset with the location of the Spirulina production units is already online in the EMODnet portal but more details on other categories of information are still missing. For the algae database, besides the information collected using databases and web searches, as we did already for Spirulina, we conducted surveys with the industry and consultation with experts. Thus, the level of maturity of the algae database is higher and we still need more time and work to reach a similar level of confidence for the Spirulina database.

HA: What are the next plans?

RA: We have many activities in the pipeline. As said before we will populate the Spirulina database with additional relevant categories of information. We will start working on the upstream steps of the algae value chain trying also to gather available information on flows (linking data on algae biomass production and uses) and economic value.  We also want to continue monitoring the volumes of algae production reported in the data collection schemes and combine these with the JRC dataset to try to fill knowledge gaps and improve the European level knowledge on the sector.

We are now publishing a peer-reviewed publication about the status of the algae production industry in Europe and we will update the Country dashboard from the Knowledge Center for Bioeconomy accordingly.  We hope to continue working in collaboration with the European algae stakeholders to increase the amount and quality of knowledge available on the sector in Europe.

The information and views set out in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official opinion of the European Commission. Neither the European Commission nor any person acting on the European Commission's behalf may be held responsible for the use which may be made of the information therein.

January 25th, 2021 | Written by

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