What do reducing carbon emissions, solving world hunger, green-energy, and space travel have in common? All of these problems may be addressed by a very unassuming organism—algae. Scientists from different universities are currently conducting research regarding an unconventional use of algae combined with other substances.
Combat Climate Change
Scientists from Duke University, Cornell University, and the University of Hawaii have banded together to see whether an unlikely mixture of algae can help create negative emissions in order to stop climate change. The bold idea of using algae to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide started with Ian Archibald of Cinglas Ltd. They called this new system Algae Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (ABECCS). It acts as a huge carbon dioxide sink to reduce the current levels of the greenhouse gas in the atmosphere. Algae convert the carbon dioxide in the air into carbon-rich lipids, which is not very far from bio-diesel.
“Algae may be the key to unlocking an important negative-emissions technology to combat climate change,” Charles Greene, Cornell professor of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences said.
The scientist explained that when algae is combined with eucalyptus, bioenergy with carbon capture and storage as well as microalgae production could produce a unique scientific synergy that could both reduce greenhouse gases and help solve world hunger.
Absorbing carbon is simply one part of the system. One of the main functions of the ABECCS facility is to generate safe and sustainable energy. Most of the world’s energy comes from the burning of carbon-based fuel sources such as fossil fuel. As the algae in the system are used to absorb huge amounts of carbon dioxide, it can also be used as a fuel replacement for power plants.
In fact, according Greene, when the price of carbon increases in the future, the system can be used as a means to reduce carbon dioxide and use it for an environmentally sustainable energy source.
Aside from being used as a potential fuel source, the ABECCS facilities can also be used to generate food as algae are a good source of protein. For a small land foot print, it can generate the same amount of protein as soybeans. However, algae is able to do this while generating energy and reducing tons of carbon dioxide from the air at the same time.
According to Robert Henrikson, CEO of Smart Microfarms, microalgae are 20 times more productive than traditional crops. They don’t require too much water and can be grown nearly anywhere so they won’t compete for agricultural land.
Algae in Space
Since algae is a very efficient food source, it is also being tested for space travel. Scientists are trying to see whether algae can be grown on Mars as an alternative food source. German scientists have been trying to prove this since 2014 and have discovered that two types of algae can survive up to 16 months in space.
Furthermore, because algae is an efficient energy source, it can also be used as bio-fuel to power space shuttles and space stations in the future. This oft-ignored organism may actually hold the key to improving technology and various life processes in the future.