Enhancing sustainable food security for urban areas by scaling up production of low-cost food-grade protein through the fermentation of microalgae.
Eugene Wang (left) and Barnabas Chan with the microalgae protein-based crab cakes they developed
“When people start to look for a more sustainable solution, we can say, ‘Here, we have it.’”
If Eugene Wang’s lifelong dream comes to fruition, we could soon be seeing the stars and crescent of Singapore’s flag on Mars. The co-founder of Sophie’s BioNutrients, which develops plant-based protein out of microalgae, is setting his sights high.
“In my lifetime, I want to bring Sophie’s BioNutrients’ technology to space and create microalgae-based food for space exploration,” said the 51-year-old.
“It’s not too late for Singapore to develop a space food programme.”
But for now, his ambitions are more grounded.
He wants to revolutionise the global food industry by introducing sustainable microalgae protein as a viable alternative for animal-based protein.
“With the COVID-19 pandemic, the whole world is waking up to the fact that we are underinvesting in food and agriculture technology.”
“Microorganisms as food is the future.”
This future is now one step closer after Sophie’s BioNutrients won a grant at The Liveability Challenge (TLC) 2019 to scale up its production of microalgae protein.
Presented by Temasek Foundation, TLC is an international platform that accelerates the launch of sustainable game-changing innovations through funding and other opportunities for development. In 2019, TLC was supported by 35 partners, including investors, startups, business associations and media, and attracted over 300 applications from more than 50 countries.
For Eugene, his big dreams of changing the way the world eats began with a small discovery back home.
“Thirteen years ago, I found out that my daughter is allergic to shellfish,” said , whose family owns a vegetarian food manufacturing plant.”
He added, “We have all this technology. We can come up with something to help her.”
At the Sophie’s BioNutrients production facility, microalgae is grown and fermented in a bioreactor under controlled conditions. Once the microalgae is harvested, protein can be extracted and used as an ingredient for food products such as plant milk and soy meat.
“The beauty of our bioreactor is that you don’t have to consider weather conditions.”
“You can grow microalgae in our bioreactor in Singapore, or at the top of the Himalayas. It can even work on Mars!”
While the global potential of microalgae protein is massive, its environmental footprint will be anything but. One tonne of microalgae protein can be produced with just 0.02 hectares of land, or half a basketball court – a far cry from the 141 hectares required to produce the same amount of beef.
“Given the situation with the environment and population growth, we don’t have space to feed so many animals. And we can’t keep planting more plants.”
“Protein, vitamins, fibre and even calcium – you can get them all from microorganisms. The microalgae that we are using delivers high nutritional content at a much lower cost. We’re addressing not just plant-based diets, but the whole sustainability of our food chain.”
Sophie’s BioNutrients is already seeing a keen appetite for its microalgae protein from local and international markets, and collaborations, with major industry players are underway.
“Hopefully, in a year’s time you’ll be able to buy and eat some products made with our microalgae protein.”