The Future of Feed: Integrating Technologies to Decouple Feed Production from Environmental Impacts

Published on 23 April 2019


Population growth, an expanding middle-class, and a global shift in dietary preferences have driven an enduring demand for animal products. Since animal products are playing a vital role in human diets, their consumption is predicted to increase further. However, the great dependency of animal husbandry on global staple feed crop soybean; the environmental consequences of soybean production; and barriers for soy cropland expansion cast doubt on food system sustainability. The need to mitigate future demand for soy with other feed sources of similar nutritional profile, and thereby decouple food and feed production from ecological pressures, is compelling. Yet, the literature and science of sustainable agriculture is one of incremental improvements, featuring primarily, crop production intensification. A different, more profound approach to the design of feed systems is required to ensure sustainable food security. The question arises if alternative technologies exist to support such a design. This paper explores a particular novel configuration of four advanced technologies recently deployed in the region of Hengill, Iceland: light-emitting diode systems, advanced indoor photobioreactors, atmospheric carbon capture technology, and geothermal energy technology. In situ system analysis and data triangulation with scientific literature and data from independent sources illustrate the potential of these integrated technologies to produce algal-based animal feed. The analysis suggests that a highly sustainable soybean equivalent is technically attainable for feed purposes. The integrated system requires less than 1% of arable land and fresh water compared with soybean cultivation and is carbon negative. In addition, it provides a pesticide- and herbicide-free cultivation platform. This new configuration provides one pathway for the future of feed.

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