Hunger and climate change. Two hot topics that are consistently the subject of news headlines and worried conversations. The United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization estimates that roughly 805 million people suffered from chronic undernourishment from 2012-2014. Approximately 40 billion tons of glacier mass are lost each year, representing just a fraction of the total environmental change taking place, largely due to energy use by humans. What can we do to make sustainable food sources and sustainable energy sources? The answer to both might be algae.
Emerging data shows algae as both a promising fuel source as well as food source. Half of algae’s composition is oil, allowing it to be transformed into biodiesel. This biodiesel is now the closest fuel to crude oil that scientists have created, but it burns significantly cleaner and more efficiently than petroleum. In 2013, researchers refined the process so that a mixture of algae and water can create fuel in less than hour. As an additional benefit, this fuel could cost as low as two dollars a gallon, which would hopefully motivate the otherwise uninterested to use this more eco-friendly and sustainable fuel. Possibly the greatest benefit of algae fuel is that algae is natural and highly productive. Some research indicates that algae are 10 to 100 times more productive than other biomass materials that could be turned into fuel.
This productivity can also lend itself to food. Many people already eat forms of algae; many types of seaweed are popular eats across the world. Algae are high in calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, zinc, and vitamin K, to start. Additionally, algae is prepared to eat by drying, making it an easy nutrient source to ship and store.
The final benefit of algae is the growing process itself. Large sinks of algae grown for fuel or food benefit the environment in another way by taking in carbon dioxide as part of their photosynthesis process. Carbon dioxide is the most prevalent greenhouse gas, and a large percentage of that is from human caused emissions. So, not only can the end product of algae further global sustainability, but the process to create it can too have a positive benefit on the earth.
Written by Lindsey Brand, ESLLC 2015-2016