Algae, an effective lever for carbon-free agriculture and consumption

The Olmix Group is a French SME based in Brittany with a turnover of 155 million euros (2017)—80% of which was exports. The Group works through a worldwide network of 27 locations and 800 partners in 100 countries.

Blue Innovation. The Olmix Group has always been following the path of marine biotechnology by intervening, notably thanks to algae, in different stages of agricultural and food production. In what sense are the solutions that you offer synonymous with change?

Hervé Balusson. Collectively and internationally, our society is facing two major challenges: we need to produce more high-quality food in order to feed a growing population, yet we also need to protect the environment in order to ensure the renewal of our resources. The excessive use of pesticides, drugs and chemicals is a matter of legitimate concern, and since the creation of the Olmix Group this has led us to focus upon algae—an abundant and hitherto largely untapped resource—in order to contribute to the development of a more sustainable global diet.

The oceans, and especially their plant biomass, are still relatively unknown as a source of renewable bio-resources. As the surface area of the world’s agricultural land continues to shrink, algae require neither soil nor irrigation and their extracts possess unique biological properties: immuno-modulating, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, hypolipidemic, elicitive, bio-stiumlating, etc. Researching and developing alternative algae and mineral clay-based natural solutions can enable the transformation of a co-product into a value-added product.

The range of our products does indeed enable us to intervene at every stage of food production by reducing the use of pesticides in agriculture and that of antibiotics in animal husbandry, and to offer, in fine, foods whose nutritional value, healthiness and taste are proven. In this sense, the Olmix Group offers natural sources of nutrition and health to plants, animals and human beings and is building, thanks to algae, a global approach to food and health as part of a necessary transition away from our current models of agriculture and nutrition.

Algae seem to offer a renewable source of raw materials capable of meeting some of the challenges our society is currently facing. What possibilities for development have you identified in this regard?

The Olmix Group continues to research new possibilities in cosmetics and biofoods—notably alternatives to salt and sugar—in order to meet the expectations of consumers. This also involves the development of environmentally responsible products using algae as a raw material.

For example, we are working with Algopack to develop products from bioplastics, creating a circular economy within which algae are used completely, from juice to dry matter. Using this raw material paves the way for the creation of many different natural products such as wholly or partially biodegradable packaging and plastics capable of immediately reducing our environmental footprint.

Incidentally, the fact that algae are a carbon sink makes their use a means of directly reducing our carbon footprint. Algae enable us to imagine a transition towards a carbon-free form of agriculture and the consumption of high-value, environmentally responsible products.

What are the main challenges that you are facing in your attempts to realize this ambition?

Four challenges need to be tackled if we are to succeed in shifting towards a model of sustainable consumption through the development of algae-based solutions.

First of all, the structuring of a real algae-based sector bringing together production, processing and distribution across a range of different industrial sectors. In this regard, it is vital that agricultural businesses and producers adopt existing technologies and that they develop new solutions together. The establishment of a dedicated sector would enable the development of a collective effort to achieve this goal.

Next, there is a need for public and private actors to work together. As a business, we can offer governments various solutions, such as the harvesting and processing project we have proposed to solve the problem of invasive Sargassum seaweed, notably in the Antilles. We are also a multisectoral operator for whom it is vital that current regulations are respected—and amended by government. The financial support of national and local authorities is also essential to our development—and we are indeed grateful for the support we receive, which enables us to continue our work.

The third issue is the financing of new projects that are often based upon innovation. We are about to set up a fund called ‘BioAlg’ that we hope will serve as a useful tool and lever for the development of new actors in the sector and the promotion of greater collaboration between as many of them as possible. Finally, the goal of creating a dedicated sector would be incomplete without including consumers at its very heart. The latter are both the ultimate link in the chain and the primary actors for change. We must show them that we have solutions capable of meeting tomorrow’s challenges in terms of health and the environment.

Hervé Balusson

President of the Olmix Group.

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