At our May 26 Happy Hour, our guest speaker, Jill Kauffman Johnson explained how microalgae and other microorganisms can help us work toward a low carbon food system. Jill is the Executive Advisor of Sustainability and Society at Corbion (, a bio-based products company centered around innovative food and specialty ingredients derived from microalgae.

Food systems are responsible for a large fraction of our global greenhouse gas emissions. For instance, as we learned (thanks to a trivia question), in the U.S. in 2019, 10 percent of our greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions came from the agricultural sector. Jill explained that every food has the potential to contribute to greenhouse gas emissions at each step of its production, including the land use change required to farm the food to the transport, packaging and retail at the end of the food’s life cycle. Beef, lamb and mutton, cheese, chocolate and coffee are some of the foods with the largest greenhouse gas emissions footprints.

Ultimately, the challenge at hand is, “How do we produce more nutritious food using less resources and emitting less GHG?” explained Jill.

At Corbion, one of the company’s main goals is to produce fish oil without fish. Unfortunately, fish oil is a limited resource with only 1 million metric tons of it available a year. Seafood farmers rely on fish oil for aquaculture, which has become a necessity to meet the ever-growing demand for food in the world.  Fish contain long chain omega 3s because the fish at the bottom of the food chain eat algae. According to Jill, microalgae “are the origin of all plant life.”  Corbion uses algae that grow in the dark to produce an abundant and sustainable source of fish oil without involving fish. In addition, just one hectare of land produces enough biofuel to run the operation and feed the algae. This fish oil can be produced in just five days at any time of the year – an incredibly high yield!

There are other companies in the Bay Area using microorganisms such as yeast and fungi to produce low carbon foods. Check out Clara Foods ( to learn about animal proteins made from yeast or look up Perfect Day Foods ( to learn about milk made from fungi.

As we discussed in small groups, there are many promising ways that can help us start to transition to a low carbon food system (for example, utilizing microorganisms, buying local and reducing red meat consumption), but there is still a lot of work to be done. The good news is it all starts with awareness and taking a few first steps that work with one’s own circumstances.

Author: Megan King