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Could algae farming be Australia’s next big thing?

Murdoch University researchers are at the forefront of a new report, which asserts algal farming can create jobs and protect the Great Barrier Reef.

Emeritus Professor Michael Borowitzka and Dr Navid Moheimani from Murdoch’s Algae Research Centre were part of a diverse group of scientists, entrepreneurs and policymakers to inform the report, launched at Federal Parliament recently.

Compiled by think tank, Australia21, the report predicts that algal farming will grow to become a major new industry worth tens of millions of dollars to regional economies.

The report urges politicians and policy-makers to support the development of an expanded algal industry in Australia, and calls on the industry to unite.

Algae, both micro and macro, have numerous uses, including food for humans and animals, pollution control, pharmaceuticals and the production of biofuel.

The report highlights an Australian company, which is harvesting nutrient rich waste water from aquaculture that would otherwise have contributed to the pollution of the Great Barrier Reef. The firm is using this waste water to grow valuable seaweed (macro algae). The company wants to partner with coastal Queensland councils to more effectively treat municipal waste water.

The Great Barrier Reef is at risk from nutrient-rich runoff from aquaculture industries in Queensland.

At Murdoch University, Professor Borowitzka and Dr Moheimani have been carrying out multi-disciplinary research into algal cultivation to maximise productivity and provide valuable by-products. Most recently, they have been investigating the success of microalgae in treating piggery effluent, as well as the most efficient ways to produce biofuel.

In the report, Professor Borowitzka says the development of an industry association would ensure funding is used strategically so more projects achieve successful commercialisation.

“The USA and Europe have very large and active algae industry associations which allow companies and researchers to interact and speak with a more unified voice,” Professor Borowitzka said.

“They provide expert advice on priorities and needs for the successful development and growth of this new industry.

“In Australia, our algae industry is hampered by the tyranny of distance, but we are also blessed with unique geographic advantages for commercial-scale algal production and utilisation of algae."

The report, entitled Opportunities for an expanded algal industry in Australia, makes six national recommendations. These include a review of the contribution algal technology can make to Australian food security, and the mapping of the relative suitability of regional areas for algal industry development.

Professor Borowitzka said Western Australia was well placed to play an important part in the industry due to its optimum climate, as well as available land and coastline.

Western Australia has high potential for algae farm development. Pictured: An aerial view of algae ponds at Plankton Farms Karratha site, WA.

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