Algae production in Europe and cultivation in France

The European Commission published, June 2020, the 2020 EU report on the blue economy. The sector involving algae biomass in Europe is described as the most advances emerging sectors of the blue bioeconomy.

The European Commission published, last June, the 2020 EU report on the blue economy produced by the Directorate General for Maritime Affairs and Fisheries (DG-MARE) and the Joint Research Centre (JRC).

This third edition provides an overview of the performances of EU economic sectors related to oceans and coastal environments. With a turnover of 750 billion euros in 2018, the EU’s blue economy is doing well. The blue economy sector also employed 5 million people in 2018.

The sector involving algae biomass in Europe is described as the most advances emerging sectors of the blue bioeconomy. In this context, the term “algal biomass” will include microalgae, macroalgae (marine algae) and cyanobacteria (spirulina). Macroalgae are harvested from wild stocks or cultivated at sea (coastal or offshore) or on land. Spirulina is mainly produced in open ponds, and microalgae are produced in open ponds or closed systems such as photobioreactors or fermenters.

According to available data, algae biomass production is increasing worldwide and reached 33 million tons (weight) in 2016, of which 0.57% by volume (0.2 million tons) was produced in Europe ( EU 28 + EEA). On the international scale, algae biomass is mainly supplied by aquaculture (96.5% of the global production in 2016) whilst in Europe, seaweed harvesting from wild stocks stood for 98% of the total EU algae production. FAO statistics show that over the last decade (2008-2017), the most important suppliers were China and Indonesia (contributing 91% of non-EU production) followed by South Korea. In Europe, the algae biomass is mainly supplied by Norway (71%) followed by France and Ireland.

According to the JRC Algae Database, 126 microalgae and macroalgae producing companies were referenced in the EU, a total of 144 production plants and 15 production companies in other countries of the EEA with one company in each. From all these companies, 57% produced macroalgae and 43% microalgae. France hosts the largest number of companies followed by Spain, Ireland and then Germany. In France, Spain, Portugal and the Netherlands, the number of producers of macro- and microalgae is approximately the same. Algae production in Germany, Italy and Austria is dominated by microalgae, while in Ireland and Denmark macroalgae production is dominant. Spirulina producers are not yet mapped, but based on JRC estimates, there are approximately 250 spirulina farms operating in the EU, of which around 150 are located in France.

Based on a survey carried out by the JRC, macro- and microalgae production sectors are mainly represented by small-scale companies with less than 20 employees each (79% of companies), working mostly full-time. According to the collected data, the macro- and microalgae biomass production sectors have been estimated employing around 3,000 people.

Estimates provided by the European Algae Biomass Association (EABA) underline that the microalgae sector generated a turnover of more than 350 M € in 2018, by considering both companies and jobs, and reached more than 400 M € when including equipment companies and R&D companies.

According to the Blue Bioeconomy Forum report, the algae industry faces a number of challenges which are slowing its development. The most important challenge is related to the political and regulatory framework. Legislative requirements for different aspects of production are not harmonized between Member States, while standards in EU law (EFSA; Novel Foods Regulation) can create financial burdens and incapacity for EU businesses to be competitive with foreign markets.

And what about algae cultivation in France?

The statistical survey of French aquaculture carried out in 2019, has determined, for the first time, seaweed farms, microalgae cultivation site as well as spirulina production units.

A total of 160 French companies have been identified which produced 188 tons of biomass in 2018 for a total value of € 8.9 million (all algae) and losses are estimated at 17%. This global volume can be detailed as the following:

• The volume of seaweed is estimated at 125 tons of fresh algae including 68 tons of Wakame (Undaria pinnatifida), 45 tons of Royal Kombu (Saccharina latissima) and 8 tons of other macroalgae. In 2018 nine companies cultivated macroalgae in France.

• The volume of spirulina (cyanobacteria) reaches 63 tons (dry weight) produced by 147 companies for a unit price of 119.8 € / kg

• Finally, 7 companies are identified for cultivating Chlorella and other microalgae.

2/3 of the cultivation of seaweed biomass is dedicated to human and animal food and the remaining third for the cosmetic or pharmaceutical industry.

Spirulina is produced only for the human food sector with direct sales to consumers which represent 50% of the produced volume and 1/3 is commercialised in farm stores, associations supporting small farms and organic stores.


Fiche de synthèse Aquimer du 23/07/2020 « Rapport 2020 sur l’économie bleue dans l’Union européenne »

Fiche de synthèse Aquimer du 24/07/2020 « L’aquaculture française en 2018 : résultats de l’enquête statistique de 2019 »

Agreste. Enquête aquaculture 2018. Mai 2020 (n°3). Recensement pisciculture, culture d’algues et cyanobactéries 2018.

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