|Chlorella vulgaris on microscope view|
C. vulgaris is a green eukaryotic microalgae in the genus Chlorella, which has been present on earth since the Precambrian period. This unicellular algae was discovered in 1890 by Martinus Willem Beijerinck as the first microalgae with a well-defined nucleus. At the beginning of the 1990s, German scientists noticed the high protein content of C. vulgaris and began to consider it as a new food source. Japan is currently the largest consumer of Chlorella, mostly because of its medical properties.
The world annual production of the various species of Chlorella was 2000t (dry weight) in 2009, with the main producers being Germany, Japan and Taiwan. C. vulgaris constitutes an excellent candidate for production due to its high resistance against rough conditions and invading organisms. In addition, the production of the various organic macromolecules of interest (proteins, lipids, starch) differ depending on the technique used to create biomass and can be therefore targeted. Under more hostile conditions, the biomass decreases but lipids and starch contents increase. Under favourable conditions, protein content raises along with the biomass. Different growth techniques have been developed. They exploit the autotrophic, heterotrophic or mixotrophic properties of C. vulgaris. Growing C. vulgaris autotrophically is illustrated by the closed photo-bioreactor. Harvesting the biomass is then generally done by centrifugation due to the high process efficiency (95% recovery). Other techniques exist as well, such as flocculation, filtration, flotation.
C. vulgaris is seen as a promising source of bioenergy. It may be a good alternative to the current biofuel crops, like soybean, corn or rapeseed, as it is more productive and do not compete with food production. It can produce large amount of lipids, up to 20 times more than crop, which have a suitable profile for biodiesel production. This microalgae also contains high amount of starch, good enough for the production of bioethanol. However, microalgal biofuels are still far from being competitive with fossil fuels, regarding their high production costs and controversial sustainability.
Food and health
The proteins content of C. Vulgaris varies from 42 to 58% of its biomass dry weight. These proteins are considered as having a good nutritional quality compared to the standard profile for human nutrition of the World Health Organisation and Food and Agricultural Organisation, as the algae synthesise essential and non-essential amino-acids. The algae also contains lipids (5-40% of the dry mass), carbohydrates (12-55% dry weight) and pigments with among others chlorophyll, reaching 1-2 % of the dry weight. C. vulgaris contains also some minerals and vitamins important for human nutrition. C. vulgaris is marketed as dietary supplement, additive, as colourant or food emulsion. They are all in the form of capsules, extracts, tablets or powder. They are consumed in Japan as a medical treatment. C. vulgaris has demonstrated some antitumor and immune-modulating characteristics. However, despite its high nutritious protein content and its potentially health benefits, C. vulgaris is not yet widely incorporated in food products. The main reason for this is its dark green colour and its smell, which is close to that of fish.
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Other names: synonym: Chlorella vulgaris var. viridis Chodat includes: Chlorella vulgaris Beijerink IAM C-27 formerly Chlorella ellipsoidea Gerneck IAM C-27
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