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In today’s article, we are going to tell you everything you need to know about algae farming. From why are algae important, usage, algae farming, how are they used for biofuel, and much, much more.
Algae (Lat. Algae), a broad group of predominantly aquatic, photosynthetic autotrophic organisms (from unicellular to multicellular), resembling plants known as phytoplankton, better known as a living plant organism without roots, leaves, or flowers. It is estimated that there are more than 25,000 species of algae. Most are mostly seaweed in the oceans; the rest is made up of freshwater algae. Water flowers, water mosses, sea plants, or seagrasses are all forms of algae. The algae are of different sizes, from tiny picoplankton that must be increased 1,000 times before we can see it, to giant grasses in the oceans up to 160 ft long.
A common feature of all algae is photosynthesis, in which they produce oxygen as a by-product (unlike some photosynthetic bacteria). With the exception of blue-green, algae are eukaryotes, ie their cells contain organelles including the nucleus and mitochondria separated by the cytoplasmic membrane. Eukaryotic algae also contain a chloroplast that contains pigments for the absorption of solar energy during the process of photosynthesis. In most algae, with other pigments that give them a characteristic color (phycoerythrin – red, phycocyanin and allophycocyanin – blue, fucoxanthin – brown, violaxanthin – purple, etc.), the primary pigment is chlorophyll (a).
Although they have many similarities to terrestrial plants, macroalgae are not real plants because they lack a specialized vascular system (fluid and nutrient conduction system) root, stem, leaves (take nutrients, liquid and gases directly from the water column) and closed reproductive organs (flower or cone). Algae need only minerals, sunlight, and water to prevent it from drying out. Biochemical reactions allow algae to create their own food from the surrounding gases and minerals.
Use of Algae
Macroalgae are used as food for humans. In Asian countries, algae are traditionally used in the diet. The largest consumers today are Japan, China, and Korea but also Iceland, Ireland, and Canada. 90% of the demand is covered by algae aquaculture and about 10% is from natural habitats. China is the largest producer of edible algae, with an estimated five million tonnes a year. Laminaria japonica Japan produces the largest share of brown algae combo production in Japan, producing 600,000 tonnes of edible algae annually, where 75% of its production is Nori (thin algae used to wrap sushi rice). Nori is made from Porphyra species.
Algae can be used as a food supplement. Brown algae are collected, milled, and dried produce algae flour (porridge), which is used as a feed additive for livestock.
The high fiber concentration retains moisture and the concentration of algae-containing minerals enriches the soil and is a source of trace elements. Therefore, algae can also be used as a high-grade fertilizer.
Some macroalgae have the ability to absorb heavy metal ions from polluted waters, such as zinc or cadmium. Draining waters often contain a large amount of organic matter that creates problems for living in nearby waters. Macroalgae are able to use pollution as a source of nutrients for their metabolism and thus purify water.
Isolated substances such as agar, alginates, and carrageenan are extracted from various red and brown algae and are widely used in various industries (cosmetic, pharmaceutical, chemical, food, textile …).
Why are Algae important?
The average American eats 3.5 oz of protein a day, twice as much as he needs, which at the end of the story becomes unsustainable in a world where the UN says we will need to produce 70 percent more food by 2050 to feed an additional 2.5 billion people. They did not specify that the disparity between 70 percent and 2.5 billion originates from the fact that, except for new people, it is necessary to find enough food on Earth for those already hungry today.
Hence, algae as a great solution, primarily because of the water, because they do not need fresh water, practically drinkable. Today, the situation around the globe is such that 70 percent of such water is spent on crop irrigation and livestock farming. Algae, by contrast, can grow in holes, aquariums, oceans, and are packed with all the nutrients they need, and they need so little to grow that they can grow even in the desert.
Some types of algae contain so much protein that they make up 40 percent of its weight. This means that on the same surface, these algae yield seven times more protein than the soybean (which is for example highly regarded).
CO2? Let’s say this, on the one hand, agriculture (including livestock) is one of the worst pollutants on Earth, with 50 percent of the world’s oxygen coming from algae. With the cultivation of new algae, we will have more of these organisms producing oxygen, at the expense of vast, devastating farmland. Everything you need to enjoy in it are the pools where water is pumped, some fertilizer and CO2, and then everything is left on the sun.
The future thus prepares to be both delicious and nutritious and 100 percent sustainable.
Biofuel produced from Algae
Algae-derived biofuels are one alternative to fossil fuels and even other sources of biofuels, such as corn and sugar cane. They belong to the third generation of biofuels, which includes species that have not been grown before and do not endanger food supplies.
Laboratory research has shown that algae can produce up to thirty times more energy per acre of soil than cereals, such as soybeans. Biofuels, including algae produced, are increasingly being researched and produced due to the global rise in the price of oil, the adverse impact of greenhouse gases and the need for secure energy supplies.
Some of their main advantages are that they can be grown with minimal impact on the surrounding biosphere, can be grown in fresh and saltwater, and are resistant to wastewater, and can naturally filter water.
In addition, algae naturally carry out the process of photosynthesis, taking CO2 from the environment and converting it to O2, purifying the air by reducing the number of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. Fuel is also naturally degradable, which means that it does not have an adverse effect on the environment in the event of spillage. Algae are more expensive per unit mass compared to second-generation biofuels due to high investment and operating costs but can produce between 10 and 100 times more fuel per unit area.
Contributing to this is the fact that algae farms can also be set up vertically, in “floors”, which is not the case when growing terrestrial plant species. The main limitation in vertical algae placement is the light available that is necessary for algae development. Thus, according to the US Department of Energy, only 0.42% of their surface area would be required to completely replace petroleum fuels with algae-derived fuels.
According to research from multinational oil companies, algae-produced biofuels will only become commercial in about 20-25 years.
Algae grow much faster than food crops and can produce hundreds of times more oil per unit area. Since the harvesting period of algae lasts between 1 and 10 days, their cultivation allows much more harvesting than the terrestrial species, which are usually harvested once a year. In addition, algae can grow in areas unfavorable to terrestrial species, including arid regions, thereby reducing competition in these areas. Most algae research has focused on growing inexpensive, but also clean, photobioreactors, and in open-air ponds that are inexpensively maintained but also susceptible to contamination.
So far, most research has focused on growing only one separate species of algae. However, more recent studies show that the cultivation of multiple types of algae in a community (polyculture) at the same time can yield a higher amount of lipid than monocultures, and that polyculture algae are more resistant to the effects of various diseases and parasites, and generally to the adverse effects of the environment.
Production of Biofuel
After harvesting the algae, the biomass is processed by a series of operations, which can vary depending on the type of algae and the desired fuel. This part of the process is currently being researched the most, as it represents the highest cost and the biggest barrier to the commercial use of algae-produced biofuels.
Algae are most commonly dehydrated, and energy-rich substances such as triglycerides are recovered from the dried material using solvents. The separated substances can be converted into fuel by standard procedures (eg separated triglyceride reacting with methanol creates biodiesel by transesterification process). Different composition of fatty acids in different types of algae results in different fuel quality.
Hydrothermal dissolution is an alternative process in which wet algae are continuously subjected to high temperatures (662°F) and elevated pressure (21,000 kPa). This process produces crude oil, which can be further refined into kerosene, gasoline or diesel. Between 50% and 70% of carbon from algae can be converted to fuel. Other products include clean water, gas, nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium.
Compared to terrestrial plant species used for biofuels (eg soybeans or maize), microalgae cultivation has a significantly lower environmental impact due to the higher oil content. Algae can also grow in areas useless for the cultivation of common species and can use non-drinking water that cannot be used when growing other species. They can also grow on the ocean surface, making them a source of clean energy with little impact on food and water supply and biodiversity. Algae cultivation also does not require the use of any insecticides or herbicides, eliminating this additional source of pollution. Biofuels produced from algae are much less toxic than petroleum-based fuels and are also more slowly degraded. However, as with any combustible fuel, there is also a risk of ignition in the event of spillage, even if this risk is slightly lower than that of oil-based fuels.
Studies have shown that replacing fossil fuels with renewable energy sources could reduce CO2 emissions by as much as 80%. An algae-based system could capture up to 80% of the CO2 emitted by a power plant while allowing access to sunlight. This CO2 will still be released into the atmosphere by the combustion of fuel, but this is at least further utilized. The possibility of reducing CO2 emissions, therefore, lies in avoiding the use of fossil fuels. In addition, compared to fossil fuels, during the production and combustion of algae-based biofuels, neither sulfur nor nitrogen oxides are released into the atmosphere, resulting in less carbon monoxide and unburned hydrocarbons.
Of the entire algae biofuel production process, currently, the biggest barrier to commercial use is the high investment costs of an algae fuel processing plant. The exploitation of algae for fuel as a serious alternative to fossil fuels has begun to be considered relatively recently, after raising global environmental awareness, and it is not surprising that it is not yet commercially competitive. Progress can be expected in almost every part of the process, and thus an increase in cost-effectiveness. For example, the possibility of increasing the efficiency of conversion of solar energy into biomass from the current 3 to a possible 5 to 7% is mentioned.
Many algae byproducts can be used differently, with some having even longer usage histories than biofuels. Some of them are natural dyes and pigments, antioxidants, and other bioactive substances. These chemicals and excess biomass have various uses in other industries.