Many of the envisioned applications of microalgae currently remain untested or are economically uncompetitive with oil-based products (e.g. algae-based biofuels). As such AlgaEnergy is a business founded on a vision of the potential of largely as-yet-unproven technological capacities, based heavily on research and development.
With research activities based in Madrid, the company has international reach, with subsidiaries in North Africa, Brazil, Mexico, India, Turkey, US, & Australia. With these international subsidiaries, the company seeks to contribute to the creation of new dynamics of circularity across international markets. As such, AlgaEnergy emerges as a case to study not only nationally situated CE dynamics, but efforts to create international mechanisms of CE in competition with existing extractive global market dynamics.
Rather than a recent add-on to the company’s activities, scaling circularity is at the center of the operations of AlgaEnergy. Its stated mission is to address 3 challenges: food security, environmental sustainability, and energy security.
Distinctive aspects of the case study
Recognizing the potential of algae, the EC has articulated an aggressive intention to promote the algae sector in Europe, arguing that “raising the profile of algae will help achieve the objectives of the European Green Deal, the transition to a green, circular and carbon-neutral EU.”
Accordingly, AlgaEnergy has been the recipient of Horizon 2020 funds through multiple projects. The company was also awarded the 2020 Environment Award from the regional government of Andalusia in the category of Circular Economy. The president of the company president, Augusto Rodríguez-Villa has called AlgaEnergy “a true example of the circular economy on which our future development must continue to be based.”
The case will produce insights about a) drivers and barriers to the creation of circular economy through biological innovation and the development and application of novel technologies; b) dynamics of CE creation across international borders c) challenges related to creating CE in competition with legacy extractive economy processes d) new modes of social and economic organization perceived to be necessary for the creation of CE.
Jealsa’s approach to CE is aligned with the European Union’s interest in CE. The analysis conducted here allowed us to explore the limitations of the current European Union’s view on CE to increase social and ecological well-being. In this light, increasing employment and guaranteeing jobs in a region seems to be critical when well-being relies very much on income. However, we conclude that for the transition to the CE to integrate social and environmental justice, the European Union needs to move away from its current underlying motivations. If the CE is conceived to maintain business-as-usual (by assuring economic growth while minimizing environmental impacts), it will not be directly focused on social and environmental wellbeing generation. Such social and environmental well-being is expected to emerge from the pursuit of economic growth. However, the kind of social and environmental well-being emerging from such economic growth is reduced to a material understanding of life.
The case study also allowed us to unpack the different mechanisms underlying the hegemonic discourse and the current socioeconomic system. This is important because it advances our understanding to promote a just transition to the CE in the context of the European Union. In this regard, we conclude that the transition to the CE will need to challenge current hegemonic narratives, structures and social relations. Indeed, CE literature that assesses drivers and barriers to the CE usually covers political, market, organizational, technological or ecological issues, but it hardly ever challenges the current system and its limitations to increase social and environmental well-being.
Tess Doezema, Autonomous University of Barcelona
Javier Rivera, University of Vigo
Vincenzo Pavone, CSIC