Algae: More Than Just A Fuel Source
While algae might not be what you want to swim in, there’s no mucking about when it comes to the diverse uses scientists continue to discover about the fastest growing organism in the world. Algae can double it’s yield overnight and produce 15,000 gallons of oil per year making it ideal for producing a range of biofuels including biodiesel, ethanol, methane and hydrogen. Compared with other biofuels, algae outperforms the oil yield of corn or palm.
Algae is generally cultivated in outdoor ponds using natural sunlight or indoors in photobioreactors where the light source is controlled. The algae is contained in transparent vertical columns or tubes or flat panel reactors for maximum exposure to light.
Oil is extracted from the algae by first separating it, then pressing it or by using chemical solvents to divide the sugars from the lipids. The leftover dried material – full of proteins and carbohydrates – is called algae meal or algae cakes and has a variety of uses.
The Six Bi-Products
A traditional use for algae is in waste water treatment plants. Algae removes nitrogen and phosphorus from waste water and can bind to heavy metals, eliminating toxic compounds as well as clear it of pathogens. Some waste water facilities still use chemicals to treat sewage, relying on an energy intensive system which has higher costs than using a natural substance.
Green algae Cladophora is behind scientists’ nanotechnology research into constructing an entirely non-metal battery out of the organism’s cellulose-rich fibres.
Algae is nutrient-rich in carotene, vitamins B,C and K and amino acids making it a chosen component in the dietary supplements of both animals and humans. Nutraceuticals such as spirulina and chlorella – widely found in health food products – is a popular superfood additive that acts as an antioxidant, boosts the immune system and prevents cancer. Some strains of algae oil are thought to be superior to flax seed oil and fish oil as a source of omega 3, which can prevent cardiovascular disease and improves brain functioning.
Natural Food Coloring
Feeding astaxantin, a red pigment carotenoid found in algae, to salmon and trout increases their coloration. The pigmentation properties of algae has the potential to carry over into the food coloring market.
Bio Degradable Plastic
California-based company Cereplast is making algae plastic using 50 per cent dried algae powder and mixing it with polypropylene and other resins. They are also working toward the creation of a 100 percent compostable product made from algae.
Some types of algae serve to both absorb chemical fertilizer runoff on farms as well acting as an organic fertilizer itself and is applied to soil for regeneration.
While it is clear that Algae has potential, it remains to be seen whether it will be commercially viable to produce in mass quantity. We at TENTHMIL are hoping that the growing list of secondary commercial products for algae fuel production will speed up development of the most promising source of fuel we’ve seen yet.