The holy grail in green tech is developing sustainable, cost-effective alternatives to gasoline and other petroleum-based energy sources.
One of the most promising sources is algae – that’s the hope at least. A sustainable future for biofuels is a long way off.
But the environmental benefits of algae production go far beyond biofuels. Companies have used algae to develop and sell cosmetics, food additives, and even nutritional supplements.
These manufacturers are increasing their yields and efficiency – and inching toward the potential of biofuels – by growing algae in closed-system photobioreactors (PBRs), which limit exposure to contamination that is an inherent risk of open systems. By using glass tubing in the PBRs, algae companies gain a long-lasting, cost-effective solution that won’t warp or cloud and is easy to clean.
Here are some of the ways that this algae grown in PBRs supports a healthier planet.
Cutting carbon emissions – eventually
While interest in using algae as a source of fuel dates to the 1950s, it wasn’t until the oil crisis of the 1970s that engineers seriously considered algae for biodiesel. At the time, policy makers saw development of algal fuel as a way to reduce reliance on foreign oil and diversify energy sources.
That rationale remains. In fact, the U.S. military purchases a significant amount of jet fuel derived from biodiesel because it believes diverse fuel sources make the country more secure. Unfortunately, the fuel isn’t cost effective – yet. One of the biggest factors holding biofuels back is the relatively low cost of petroleum products.
And while the pace of development is dictated by economics, environmentalists hold out hope for biofuels that would reduce carbon emissions and slow global warming. Algae producers, however, have pivoted toward the extraction of high-value products while continuing to wait for a breakthrough on the energy front.
Taking pressure off fisheries
A growing global population means a growing demand for food. Fisheries, in particular, are under pressure. Aquaculture, better known as fish farming, relieves pressure on wild fish stocks. But farmed salmon, among the most valuable of aquaculture products, doesn’t have that pinkish-orange color that its wild cousins get from eating red krill. To get that salmon color, fish farmers use algae-derived astaxanthin, a relative of beta-carotene. Astaxanthin is also sold as a nutritional supplement for humans, and is one of the most powerful antioxidants around.
SCHOTT has partnered with Algatechnologies, Ltd., one of the world’s leading producers of astaxanthin, to research the effect of tubing sizes and geometries on yields of this valuable food additive and nutritional supplement.