March 31, 2022
From Plant-Based News

Reading Time: 2 minutes

Oil from microalgae could be a healthier, more environmentally sustainable substitute for palm oil, according to a new study.

In the February issue of the Journal of Applied Phycology, researchers at Nanyang Technological University (NTU) in Singapore described how they produced oil from microalgae and discovered positive health benefits in comparison to palm oil. 

Oil derived from microalgae – photosynthesizing microorganisms that live in salt- or fresh-water – contains more polyunsaturated fatty acids (which reduce cholesterol) and fewer saturated fatty acids than palm oil.

Microalgae is also environmentally sustainable: it is ubiquitous underwater, naturally regenerative, and harvesting it has little impact on the natural environment. Palm oil extraction, in contrast, is a notoriously large contributor to deforestation, threatening countless animal habitats, notably orangutans, pygmy elephants, and Sumatran rhinos.

Palm oil production relies on the clearing of countless animals’ habitats, especially orangutans. Credit: Adobe Stock

William Chen DSc, director of NTU’s Food Science and Technology Program, said: “Developing these plant-based oils from algae is yet another triumph for NTU Singapore as we look to find successful ways to tackle problems in the agri-food-tech chain, especially those that have an adverse impact on the environment. 

“Uncovering this as a potential human food source is an opportunity to lessen the impact the food supply chain has on our planet,” Chen said.

At present, palm oil is an ingredient in around half of all consumer products – both edible and inedible – with farmers producing 77 million tonnes of palm oil in 2018 alone. This number is expected to rise to 107.6 million tonnes by 2024, despite recent global recognition of palm oil’s detrimental impacts.

In 2012, the UK government committed to ensuring that 100 percent of palm oil used in the UK would come from sustainable sources. By 2019, the UK reached 70 percent of total palm oil imports being sustainable.

NTU is at the fore of food innovation. June 2021 saw the launch of its new undergraduate course dedicated to meat alternatives, created in partnership with the Good Food Institute Asia Pacific – the first course of its kind in Southeast Asia. 

Can you lend us a hand? For the past six years, the team behind Plant Based News has worked tirelessly to create high-quality, high-impact content that sparks dialogue and shifts the conversation around agriculture, public health, animal welfare, and the climate crisis. 

More than 2.8 million fans from 100+ countries read, share, engage, and connect with what we cover – and that number is growing all the time. 

Unearthing the facts often buried deep by leading (and sometimes unethical) organizations, we pride ourselves on being completely independent from commercial control.

Perhaps most importantly, we keep our content free – because everyone should have access to, and the opportunity to engage with these discussions.

In the age of information, where internet users are bombarded with money-driven narratives and messaging, keeping thought-provoking, moving, and above all, honest content available to all is at the heart of what we do.

Our goal, of course, is for as many communities as possible to engage with our reporting, and open the minds of people around the world. 

This is where you come in. If you’re in a position to do so, please consider supporting us from just $1, as a one-off or ongoing donation. Any amount helps us continue our mission and keep content free, for everyone.