Companies, such as Cellana, are developing patented technology to enable the large-scale production of high-value livestock feed. Photo: courtesy Cellana

Anew study from International Institute for Applied Systems Analysis (IIASA) researchers suggests that algae could become an important feed for livestock that could potentially contribute to a major cut in greenhouse gas emissions over the next 80 years. The study, published in the open-access journal Carbon Balance and Management, examined how large-scale algae cultivation as a food source would affect land use for agriculture and greenhouse gas emissions from livestock production.

While livestock production accounts for around one-fifth of greenhouse gas emissions, the authors say the use of algae as a feedstock could greatly increase the efficiency of this production, even as demand for meat and poultry increases around the world.

The study shows that microalgae can be used as livestock feed, freeing up land currently used for pasture and feed crops. This would stabilize or reduce the demand for crops like soybeans and corn and allow for better use of arable land and fresh water, helping to minimize food price increases and deforestation.

The study is the first to examine the potential for algae as a livestock feed in connection with land use, food security, and agricultural greenhouse gas emissions. Studies have also shown that the nutritional content of algae-based feed is comparable to other sources such as fishmeal and soy, and that such feeds are palatable to livestock.

“Increasingly, we need to think of arable land as a scarce resource, and we need to optimize how we use it in order to make progress on fighting climate change. This study shows algae could play a major role in freeing the land resources needed to simultaneously solve for climate change, energy demand, and food security,” says IIASA researcher Brian Walsh, who led the study.

The study was conducted using the FeliX model, which includes population, economic, and agricultural information to make projections of future greenhouse gas emissions. More information on the FeliX model can be found online at www.felixmodel.org.


Walsh B, Rydzak F, Palazzo A, Kraxner F, Herrero M, Schenk PM, Ciais P, Janssens IA, Penuelas J, Niederl-Schmidinger A, Obersteiner M, (2015). New feed sources key to ambitious climate targets. Carbon Balance and Management.