Farming protein-rich spirulina on Bangkok's rooftops

Saumil Shah

Going green

Back in the 1970s, spirulina - a high-protein, bright green algae found in remote corners of the world - was hailed as the “super food of the future”. With three times the protein of a chicken breast but just a fraction of the carbon footprint…how could it not be?

Saumil Shah

Several decades of disappointment followed. Even NASA scientists couldn't grow it truly efficiently (although of course growing any plant on a spacecraft is quite some challenge). Since then spirulina has been grown in laboratories and in both natural and man-made lakes. And now…the rooftops of Bangkok.

It's the ultimate in urban farming: Using otherwise vacant real estate to grow crops. And it's all the brainchild of Saumil Shah - a former aerospace engineer who decided to leave his corporate job and become a social entrepreneur.

"What always fascinated me was the ability of spirulina to remove CO2 from our atmosphere and use it to grow very quickly. In fact spirulina can double its mass in two to four days." Today, some 1,500 square meters of Bangkok urban space (including the roof of the famous Novotel in Siam Square) is doubling as a spirulina farm. The plant is growing in semi-transparent and interconnected plastic tubs that feed through to a centralized harvesting unit, thus requiring very little space, water and manual labor compared to traditional methods.

Which is why Saumil's company EnerGaia is today providing spirulina in fresh paste, powdered, and frozen formats - as well as a range of spirulina pastas and bottled fruit juices. Not that it’s been easy. “I began in 2009 and have been largely self-funded ever since. Sometimes I wonder if I'm throwing my savings away but then I see our products benefitting real people and realize it’s too late to stop now. Although we could definitely use some help from like-minded people!”

EnerGaia has recently launched a Kickstarter campaign offering its sprulina products as rewards. For anyone interested in supporting this cause please see the link below.

Today's Pioneers