Spirulina for fresh consumption grows in rooftops in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: AFP/ Nicolas Asfouri

Spirulina for fresh consumption grows in rooftops in Bangkok, Thailand. Photo: AFP/ Nicolas Asfouri

In Bangkok, Thailand, Patsakorn Thaveeuchukorn harvests spirulina from dozens of barrels on a rooftop, in an urban farming effort to provide a sustainable source of protein as an alternative to meat.

“The algae is growing so fast, normally the doubling time is around 24 hours,” said Patsakorn, whose employer, EnerGaia, uses Bangkok’s rooftops to grow the spirulina. “If you compare it to meat it will take six months to grow a kilogram of beef, but this we can grow in a week,” he said.

EnerGaia produces fresh spirulina, as opposed to most other spirulina companies that only sell dried and processed varieties. Jars of their algae have a shelf life of around three weeks from harvest, though they plan to increase that so it can be exported abroad. “The advantages of having it fresh are that it has virtually no taste, so you can mix it with anything,” said Derek Blitz, technology director at EnerGaia.

The empty space on top of Bangkok’s many skyscrapers provide suitable growing conditions for EnerGaia’s spirulina, as the constant high temperatures and sunlight are ideal breeding conditions. Once the spirulina has been collected, it is hand rinsed and spun dry in a modified washing machine. It’s then hand pressed into jars, as the company say there is no machine yet available that can work with the thick, jelly like substance it produces.

In EnerGaia’s laboratory, lines of different sized test tubes all connected to one another act as the breeding ground for the algae. On the rooftops, barrels of different shapes are in testing, to see which will produce the highest yield.