Algae encompass a large group of autotrophic eukaryotic life forms. They can use the sun (or light) as a source of energy to convert CO2 (carbon dioxide) and water into lipids and sugar, i.e. food. A microscopic life form that essentially breathes in CO2 and breathes out O2 (oxygen).
As a modern culture we often burn things as an energy source for our daily routine. When we use energy we are often using hydrocarbons and breaking them down into CO2 as exhaust. Common hydrocarbons that you have probably heard of are: Butane, Propane, and Octane. On a large scale, industrial companies give of a combination of noxious gases combined with CO2 in large quantities. This is causing a world-wide concern due to CO2’s ability to absorb a broad range of infra-red light which would contribute to global warming.
Right now corporations are using algae to produce ‘biofuels’ or ‘biodiesel’ and starches. The algae are kept in what is known as a photobioreactor, a fancy name for a regulated clear tube.They feed algae a nutrient rich substrate with CO2 and, in turn, the algae produce the products needed for the company to sell. In fact, flue gas (exhaust from factories) was shown to be a useful source of CO2 and nutrients for these photobioreactors.
My personal interest in this technology is to use a certain species of algae that can sequester a large portion of CO2 gas in hopes to reduce the output of CO2 to zero. So far, with the help of my professor at Thompson Rivers University in British Columbia, I’ve stumbled across a mutated algae called Scenedesmusobliquus developed in China that can significantly reduce flue gas by up to 67%. In the near future I hope to use the mutated S. obliquus in a lab setting and compare CO2 removal in a photobioreactor here to give more insight on how to further increase CO2 removal.
Fang-Fang Li, Zhong-Hua Yang, Rong Zeng, Gai Yang, Xu Chang, Jia-Bao Yan, and Ya-Li Hou “Microalgae Capture of CO2 from Actual Flue Gas Discharged from a Combustion Chamber” Industrial & Engineering Chemistry Research. 2011.
Randor Radakovits, Robert E. Jinkerson, Al Darzins, and Matthew C. Posewitz. “Genetic Engineering of Algae for Enhanced Biofuel Production “ ASM. 2010.
S. D. Varfolomeeva and L. A. Wasserman. “Microalgae as Source of Biofuel, Food, Fodder, and Medicines”. Applied Biochemistry and Microbiology. 2011.