The goal of this project is to assess the feasibility of this system, considering the suitability of algae as soy replacement, the possibilities and constraints of growing algae on farm and the economic feasibility.
Soy is an important protein source for the diet of dairy cows. The suitability of algae as soy replacement depends on their protein content, fat content, palatability, digestibility and effects on health of dairy cows. Protein-rich algae are selected, and it should be determined whether the chosen algae species contains sufficient essential amino acids, especially histidine. The fat content of the algae should be low, since high levels of poly-unsaturated fatty acids can cause milk fat depression. For palatability, it appeared that cows are willing to eat dried algae, though sometimes intake may be reduced. One study found steers preferred water containing wet algae to control water, and no other studies on the palatability of wet algae were found. The digestibility of algae species can by reduced by thick cell walls, toxic compounds, a high fat content and a high bypass rate. Feeding algae does not appear to have a significant effect on cow health. Based on these findings, four algae species suitable as soy replacement were identified: Chlorella pyrenoidosa, Dunaliella bioculata, Spirulina platensis and Spirulina maxima.
Thoughts from the WMFC team
Dairy production is facing a considerable number of challenges. It contributes a considerable amount Green House Gas (GHG) emission. Most current research on reducing diary carbon emission focus on genetic or changing feed components. Feed is another challenge, that accounts for a large amount of the production cost. Moreover, the treatment of so called “waste streams” is not making the situation easier.
In this case, the WMFC team came to the idea of adding Algae to create a synergy. Algae has the capacity of recycling nutrient water and processing the carbon from methane with the help of methanotrophic bacteria. It also has the potential of feeding cows as soy replacement. The benefit of such integration can add values into “waste streams” and methane, can reduce cost in animal feed, and can reduce the environmental impact of the dairy production.
Therefore, the main focus of this ACT was to conduct a preliminary research to check the feasibility of such integration and to check potential impacts on animal health and productivity, as well as the product quality. The team has done a great work to narrow down to four algae species. This offers a direction for the WMFC team to conduct further research and test.
The prim-research also shows that feeding algae does not have significant impact on reducing methane emission from cows. More efforts still need to be done on reducing the GHG emission in the dairy sector. Wageningen MFC has started relevant innovative technology design a few years ago. Now we are in the phase of designing and proving the concept.
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