Is that a delicious green smoothie? No, it’s a big mug of algae. Americans could be surviving and thriving on an algae diet within three decades, according to a studies.

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There are about 200,000 species of microalgae, some more protein-packed and digestible than others. People have consumed blue-green algae as food and medicine for centuries. But it’s had a limited audience. With a surging global population, some scientists think algae farming is the way to feed a hungry world.

Related: The potential of microalgae biomass as a renewable resource

The U.S. Department of Agriculture estimates that 870 million people worldwide already lack sufficient food. And we keep breeding. Humans are due to hit the 8 billion mark next month. And by 2050, there could be 9.7 billion of us!

According to a new study published earlier this month in Oceanography, aquaculture facilities could provide protein-rich algae using a tiny fraction of the land and water resources required to raise beef, pork, chicken or soybeans. Beef production is by far the greatest water user, while pork farmers are the biggest land hogs.

“We should be constructing marine microalgae cultivation facilities as soon as possible, as the technology will only reach its full potential as we gain experience and the efficiencies of scale,” said Charles Greene, one of the study authors and a professor in the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences at Cornell University, as reported by Newsweek. “These facilities are commercially viable today. However, their profitability should improve dramatically once we work out the details that only come through experience. Like wind and solar energy, federal and state support can catalyze this process and make large-scale commercialization more attractive to the private sector.”

The best places for cultivating microalgae are tropical. Parts of Africa, India, South and Central America, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Australia would be ideal.

“This is not a solution that will benefit many farmers in the U.S., but it could be very beneficial to U.S. investors,” Greene said. “Also, as we point out in the paper, the Green Climate Fund is one way that the U.S. could contribute to mitigating climate change by investing in developing countries.”

Via Newsweek

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