Case Study Arborea



Arborea aims to industrialize photosynthesis through it’s BioSolar Leaf (BSF) and make it a global tool to produce sustainable food ingredients derived from photosynthetic microorganisms (microalgae). Given their diverse nutritional properties a variety of ingredients can be derived from micro-algae ranging from high-value additives, to lower-value bulk proteins. Arborea’s technology can produce these ingredients at a lower cost than current photobioreactor technologies and much lower environmental footprint than their animal or plant-based alternatives.

Arborea will using Generally Regarded As Safe (GRAS) strains of microalgae to create existing, high-value products while scaling the technology from a 100m2 pilot facility to 20ha plants in the next 4 years. Once proven at 20ha scale focus will switch to production of lower-value, higher-impact products such as specialty proteins and omega3’s.

Theory of Change

Arborea is industrialising photosynthesis to expand the world’s food supply and to accelerate the transition to a sustainable food system. Arborea’s technology can produce a large variety of ingredients and proteins from micro-algae at low cost with a low environmental footprint. Their production technology is carbon neutral, land-use is close to zero and at scale they can supply large amounts of natural, microalgae-based ingredients (ie lipids, fatty acids, proteins) at a much lower price.


Our current agriculture and food system exceed planetary boundaries and we will need 50% more food by 2050. Animal-based ingredients require more land, water and have higher CO2-emissions than plant-based ingredients. Other sources for producing food-ingredients are emerging as alternative to agriculture, ie fermentation and cultivation, though these are limited in the type of ingredients that can be produced and still require feedstock (e.g. sugar beets) and thus land. Photosynthetic microorganisms have the potential to provide a solution with minimal footprint, however current technologies are inefficient and expensive4 limiting them to the production of high-value ingredients.

Output & Outcome

The output of Arborea’s system is a micro-algae derived biomass from which a large variety of food ingredients can be extracted. Arborea’s technology solves many of the issues with current photobioreactors, and its production technology does not require significant energy input, as it mainly runs on sunlight and atmospheric CO2. It requires less resources to produce more eventually leading to a low-cost plant-based alternative source for food ingredients.

The desired outcome is that food ingredients such as specialty proteins and eventually bulk proteins previously derived from animals or crops will be replaced by those cultivated via Arborea’s photosynthetic bioprocessing with carbon neutral production and near zero land-use1. This would radically reduce the environmental impact of these food ingredients: see Appendix for comparison for bulk protein.


The beneficiary is society at large and the environment, through a significant contribution in emissions that cause climate change and thus a reduction in the harmful effects of climate change, as well as a reduction in land use with significant positive effects for biodiversity.


As Arborea’s technology is based on three patents, its solution is unique. Other innovators typically do not focus on photobioreactor design but more on innovating within different parts of the value chain (which can add to, rather than substitute Arborea’s innovation).

Systemic potential

If Arborea can produce high volumes of food ingredients at a price that is competitive with animal sources and other plant-based sources , it will a) enable more consumers to switch to non-animal ingredients and b) change the cultivation and fermentation industry by adding a new, more sustainable pillar of production. To give a concrete example, Arborea’s product could replace fish-derived omega 3 with a micro-algae derived omega 3.

Rubio Impact Target

For Arborea we track the following impact target: Environmental footprint in CO2 equivalent emissions/kg


  • Main risk is not moving down the curve of lower-value, higher-impact ingredients and mainly producing high-value ingredients
  • Cooling of the biomass is expected to be done through cooling towers. In case this is not sufficient, chillers will need to be used. This increased costs, energy usage and CO2 emission significantly
  • Byproduct not being sold would result in 70-80% waste from the biomass.

SDG Alignment

We relate Arborea’s impact to SDG 15: Life on Land. Particularly target 15.5: Protect biodiversity and natural habits (through reduced land use for intense agriculture)