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Algae - The Lean Green Gas Guzzling Machines

22/07/2020

Dr Emily Preedy recently published an article in a Swansea University publication "A Call for Engineers".

 

Future Forest Fighters by Dr Emily Preedy

Imagine if technology could build forests of carbon capturing trees that snake around industrial plants seeking out Carbon Dioxide (CO2) like a hungry Pac-Man, autotrophically feeding on the element that is contributing to global damage to the environment.

This fantasy is now a reality at the RICE Project at Swansea University, ESRI and Engineering. A multi-disciplined, enthusiastic, revolutionary team of researchers have been working tirelessly to design, build and employ fences of artificial trees, known as a Photobioreactor, to industrial sites in the UK and Europe. These trees stand proudly at 2.5m, housed in metal framework, and the system holds up to 5,000L of a microalgae species, moving through the interconnected giant straw like structures, allowing mother nature’s climate control clans to combat the capture of CO2.

Microalgae, the soldiers in the climate control revolution, are a smaller version of seaweed, the big brother AKA Macroalgae. It has been used for centuries as a rich food source, such as lava bread (often for sale in Swansea Market), and is an important guard to maintaining an equilibrium of gases in the environment. Like any plant, algae photosynthesise, meaning that industrial waste, rich in CO2 is like bread and butter to the microorganism. Not only do the algae enjoy feasting on these emissions, it can also utilise domestic and agricultural waste that is rich in phosphates and nitrogen, all essential elements to promote the rapid growth of these specimens.

As a further incentive to industry, not only do microalgae help towards a sustainable, cleaner, and greener industrial future using up around

1.8 kg of CO2 per kg of algal biomass; the team will also be investigating the added value products that can be concentrated and purified in the downstream processes of the biomass once harvested. This biomass is rich in macro and micronutrients, with around 60% made up of protein, highly attractive as a food supplement and protein alternative. Algae also contain high levels of Vitamin B Complexes, Calcium and Iron. However, pharmaceutical industries are interested in the pigments that are held within the cellular structures; these are dependent on the species grown, but are believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

With this knowledge, adaptability of the species, and employment of the microalgae, aids in this global battle for zero carbon emissions incentive by 2050, turning emissions into edible products. Waste that works!

 

"A Call for Engineers" publication highlights research being undertaken by RICE, ESRI and the College of Engineering and can be read in full here

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