Algae: The Hero We’ve Been Waiting For? Let’s Talk Saving the Planet

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The earth is now home to 7.8 billion people globally, with a population forecast that is likely to blow well past 8 billion within the next five years. In 2015 there used to be roughly 441 trees per person, but with the recent effects of intense deforestation from industrialization and rampant wildfires, we stand at about 380 per person — that’s only 3 trillion trees left globally.

This isn’t new, nor is flagrant tree clearing for low quality, low-cost furniture by the likes of huge names like Ikea or Costco, nor the Amazonian decimation for large commodity traders such as Cargill or JBS Beef. We have been devouring our forests with abandon for years and unfortunately it is a practice that does not seem to be disappearing, unlike the trees — pun intended. What is new are methods being proposed for bolstering our friendly green forces to help clean up our act.

Let’s start with your daily morning shake with that spoonful of spirulina. Spirulina is a blue-green alga toted for its health benefits but what if this heaping green spoonful could not just help purify your body but our atmosphere, offer sustainable agricultural practices, biofuels and replace the plastics industry? That’s a tall order for a little teaspoon, but research is suggesting it may be up for it.

When it comes to carbon sequestration, algae can be a powerhouse. Much like trees, algae sequesters CO2 naturally during photosynthesis. But, given algae’s ability to grow quickly and cover more surface area, especially when influenced by its environment, algae is able to consume far more carbon dioxide than trees with studies showing algae sequestration can be up to 400 times more effective than that of trees.

As a crop, algae are far more sustainable than popular domestic agricultural focuses, like corn or soybeans. Being water-based, it does not compete with current popular crops for space and is generally much less land-intensive. It provides fish farms with substantial feed quantities and at exceptional quality levels, all while consuming significantly less water than other crops, making it outpace other crops in levels of efficiency.

Likewise, it offers incredible biofuel production capabilities. Algae can powerfully yield an abundance of 1,500 gallons of fuel per acre per annum, roughly 5 times the biofuel production from corn or sugar cane, and in some studies’ estimates, much more than that.

Additionally, algae can be used to create bioplastics that many believe can completely replace the need for synthetic plastics. As algae grows and absorbs CO2, it produces a viable starch that can be used in biopolymer and binding agents for bioplastics with CO2 oxygen as the byproduct. Such products can range from single use utensils and “plastic” bottles to furniture and even glassware.

Algae may be the future and a glimmer of hope in an anxious time for the human race where global warming is the current mass crisis. Nations have air quality warnings built into their weather updates, forests and species are rapidly disappearing, whales are found with stomachs full of plastic garbage; we have to find ways to be more ecologically effective, not just cost effective if we plan to stick around.

Lillian MacCartney, Business Development YvesBlue

Dutch engineers are opening up Algae Bake Shops where locals can bring ideas for products they need to be printed by their local ‘bakery’ with algae-based 3D printing.

Create your own energy home office bioreactor with a carbon sequestration device that uses algae.

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