Professor Peer Schenk at his test farm at Pinjarra Hills. Picture: Jamie Hanson
Professor Peer Schenk at his test farm at Pinjarra Hills. Picture: Jamie Hanson

Jobs, riches at stake as river slime converted into Omega-3

GREEN slime found in the Brisbane River is being converted into sought-after Omega-3 and some of the healthiest protein in the world, unlocking a slice of the multibillion-dollar food supplement and biofuel sector.

Sixteen years of research has been converted into the slice of the nutraceuticals industry worth billions of dollars, with the potential to create jobs far from the river where it was found.

University of Queensland's Professor Peer Schenk said Omega-3 was an essential part of the human diet that had traditionally come from fish.

The UQ algae energy farm at Pinjarra Hills in Brisbane’s west.
The UQ algae energy farm at Pinjarra Hills in Brisbane’s west.

But, he said, with not enough fish in the sea to meet human demand, Queensland researchers had traced back the Omega-3 through the food chain, starting with smaller organisms that were eating algae.

After testing dozens of forms of the marine plant, they found a local strain of the species Nannochloropsis oceanica which was adapted to living in the fresh and salt mix of the tidal Brisbane River, was ideal for production.

The test farm at Pinjarra Hills on the banks of the Brisbane River had now spawned commercial operations under way or about to begin on the Sunshine Coast, Ballina and even as far inland as Goondiwindi.

Professor Schenk said the algae could be converted to biofuel, Omega-3 or protein.

The protein was sought-after by food manufacturers, who were adding the beige-coloured and neutral-tasting product to everything from yoghurt to vegan meals.

The Innovation Queensland series, in partnership with QODE Brisbane, will showcase bright ideas and innovations emerging in the Sunshine State.

QODE Brisbane, Queensland's largest innovation and technology conference, is on March 24-25. Organisers are awaiting direction from the Queensland Government as it manages the COVID-19 pandemic.

Growing in high-density tanks and requiring little but sunshine, Prof Schenk said algae offering a huge future for Queensland food and fuel producers.

"I think it's the future," Prof Schenk said.

"We are going to need 60 per cent more food by 2050.

"It's a huge issue when we don't have more arable land or freshwater."



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