Proponents of the edible algae known as spirulina say it could help provide a sustainable source of protein as an alternative to meat.

Three times a week, Patsakorn Thaveeuchukorn harvests the green algae in the barrels.

"The algae is growing so fast, normally the doubling time is around 24 hours," said Patsakorn, whose employer EnerGaia uses Bangkok's rooftops to grow spirulina.

With its high levels of protein and nutrients, "it is beneficial to food security," he told AFP.

"If you compare it to meat it will take six months to grow a kilogram of beef, but this we can grow in a week," said Patsakorn.

Spirulina has been described by health food experts as a super-food, and it is becoming more popular worldwide.

Rosa Rolle from the UN's food and agriculture organisation (FAO) says it has been an important food source for centuries.
 

"It grows naturally in Lake Texcoco in Mexico. It was eaten by the Incas," she told AFP. "It's in many countries that border Lake Chad in West Africa and is a protein source for a lot of people."

However she warns that it can lead to health problems for people suffering from gout, as it produces a lot of uric acid, and says people need to be educated about spirulina's positive and negative effects before they consume it.