The novelty of microalgae research

Wageningen University and Research (WUR) and Nord University are collaborating for greener alternatives in aquaculture.

The Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture at Nord University and WUR have a common research aim: To study microalgae species for scientific and commercial purposes. 

WUR specialises in world class reserach in biosciences, alternative energy research and food production, both on land and water.

It started with pastures and cows a hundred years ago. 

Now, the marine “pastures” are cultivated. 

Network builder. Professor Rene Wijfells hosts the chair of bioprocess engineering at WUR Department of Agrotechnology and Food Sciences. Wijfells is also adjunct professor at Nord university, where he supervises PhD-students  and contributes to research projects at the Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture (FBA). WUR is a dynamic university and research institution, and considered one of the greenest universities on earth  (photos: Per Jarl Elle)

WUR’s main focus is to contribute to permanent sustainability of society and nature.

Professor Wijffels' research on the applications of marine algae, and specifically on microalgae as nutrition, industrial components and energy alternative, has founded a research collaboration on aquaculture.

WUR has even built a facility for microalgae production, the AlgaePARC on campus. 

The AlgeaPARC is used as elaborate research infrastructure and knowhow in MAGNIFICENT , a large consortium of 16 partners. 

René Wijffels is a network builder. Under his leadership, his research teams on several continents contribute substantially to the dynamic research field of microalgae and bio process engineering. 

The consortium is doing research on microalgae and cyanobacteria in future industrial production, generally referred to as the bio-based industries. 

– What brought you in contact with Nord University?

– I was contacted by prof Kiron Viswanath, Faculty of Biosciences and Aquaculture.  He explained that Nord University wanted to "establish a research group within microalgae research”, and whether I was interested to contribute to that. And yes, it was interesting for me was to do more with microalgae in relation to aquaculture.

– In what sense do you, as professor in bioengineering,  think international research networks can further boost the research output both at WUR and at Nord?

Team Microalgae. Post doctor Chris J. Hulatt (left) received i 2017 a EU Maria Sklodovska Grant for his photobioreactor micro algae research, here with professor Rene Wijfells, professor and FBA-dean Ketil Eiane og professor Kirin Viswanath (archive photo: Per Jarl Elle, Nord university).

– International collaborations are important. Our research goes beyond borders, and collaboration between the strongest teams helps us further. Nord University works intensively on aquaculture and I believe that microalgae are going to play a key role to supply sustainable fish feed, says Wijfells. 

 Does the strong WUR-brand help you to finance your research?

– I don't know. Of course it helps that the brand is strong to show the background of the organisation, on the other hand there are many initiatives from the same organisation as well. More important is the novelty and excellence of the research.

– Can you please describe how the education and research is organised at the department of Agrotechnology and Food Sciences?

– The department is an administrative unit. It is large, about 800 people work  there. Inside the department there are chair-groups; 21 in total. My chair-group, bioprocess engineering, is one of them. In this chair-group we are about 60 people, including 29 PhD students. The chair-group has both responsibilities in education and research. A staff member spends about 30 percent of their time on education and 50 percent on research. In addition, we have a few lecturers that are 100 percent dedicated to teaching. We have about 40 thesis students per year and they participate in the research of the PhD students, and with the PhD student as the primary supervisor and a staff member as examiner.

– You advocate for a strong collaboration between the public and market partners in funding research. Under which circumstances are public (state)-private partnerships most effective? 

– For me it is important that research is more than an academic exercise. It should be applied. In addition, I see in Europe the richness of collaboration with groups from different countries. This way, we can get the experts together. It is also interesting that companies participate in that research to realise innovation in industry. In this respect, I am very happy with public-private partnerships where industry, academia and government collaborate, says professor Rene Wijffels at Wageningen University and Research. 

Applied microalgae research. Microalgae, solid,and in liquid base aggregated by a photobioreactor (photo: Per Jarl Elle, UiN 2015).

See also

Algae to Future (A2F) From Fundamental Algae Research to Applied Industrial Practices

Top foto: Photobioreactor uses light to develop microalgae biomass through photosynthesis (credit: AlgaePARC, Wageningen)

About Wageningen University and Research (WUR) 

WUR's mission is ‘To explore the potential of nature to improve the quality of life’.

In 2019, WUR is the No.1. university in the Netherlands for the 14th time.

The university ranks as nr. 59 among the worlds universities (Times Higher Education)

Wageningen University was founded in 1918 and reorganised and renamed WUR in 1998 through a fusion of Wageningen University and several independent research institutes. 

Microalgea techno 
at Nord University 

Research on microalgae means to examine the potential of defatted biomass - derived as a co-product of biofuel production - as a feed ingredient for fish and shellfish. Ever since 2009, through national and international funding, Nord University has been examining defatted and whole microalgae as potential components in the fish feeds of different species. 

Another line of research spans from identifying cold-adapted microalgae to in-depth molecular studies for optimising their growing conditions and enriching their high-value metabolites such as fatty acids, pigments and polysaccharides. We are engaged in developing bioprocesses under different environmental conditions. This knowledge is important given that microalgae should have a future role in Norwegian bio-economy.  

See Nord University FBA 
Aquaculture Division 

What are microalgae?

Microalgae are single-cell microscopic plants that inhabit many different environments, from hot deserts to cold polar seas.

Microalgae use sunlight to bind CO2 via photosynthesis, providing food and oxygen for other organisms. They play a central role in global biogeochemical cycles and climate regulation, but also provide the high-quality food that supports productive marine fisheries.
There are thousands of different species of microalgae.