A Thai startup is growing spirulina on a Bangkok rooftop

Spirulina roof
© Paola Di Bella/Redux

The rooftop of the Hotel Novotel Bangkok has a few new green guests. Rows of white barrels are lined up on the rooftop and being used to harvest spirulina, an edible green algae.

Behind this rooftop urban garden is Saumil Shah, the director and founder of Bangkok-based EnerGaia. Shah learned that carbon dioxide from an industrial facility could be used as an inorganic carbon source to grow algae, and applied that concept to spirulina.

There are two sets of 40 interconnected bioreactors, closed tanks that hold more than 66 gallons of water each. Spirulina flows from tank to tank thanks to a blower that pumps filtered air in the system, according to the Guardian.

"By developing a proprietary algae production bioreactor design," the EnerGaia site notes, "we have created a system that maximizes production with minimal resources, reduces potential for contamination, and allows us to produce spirulina virtually anywhere." (More on the technology in the video below.)

spirulina roof man© Paola Di Bella/Redux

The Guardian explains the process behind the harvesting:

The EnerGaia team harvests the spirulina three to four times a week, taking it from the farm to a facility that spin dries the algae and packs it. It is then shipped back to the Novotel, and to 11 other stores and retailers around Thailand. Over the course of a year, EnerGaia gets somewhere between 300-500kg of fresh spirulina from the hotel rooftop. It retails for around $40/kg; to diversify its offer and reach more customers, EnerGaia also sells pasta containing spirulina and dried spirulina powder.

Now, Shah hopes to expand this initiative and partner with NGOs and multi-governmental agencies to help refugee camps get into urban farming and grow it on a trial basis. EnerGaia also runs another urban farm of more than 900 tanks in Bangkok's green zone.

Spirulina is a great source of protein and it was named one of Planet Green's Top 5 super-healthy superfoods a few years ago. There are even rumblings that spirulina could help stave off the next food crisis.

Spirulina grows quickly and needs 20 times less land than soybeans and 200 times less than beef production. In a shallow pond, spirulina can double its biomass every 2 to 5 days.

“I think we can make a big positive impact on several fronts: not just the environmental footprint but also food security,” Shah told the Guardian.

Let that be some food for thought.

A Thai startup is growing spirulina on a Bangkok rooftop
EnerGaia, a Thai startup, is using the rooftop of a Bangkok hotel to harvest spirulina. Is this the new edible rockstar of urban farming?

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