What is algae culture?
What is algae culture?
Algae culture is one of the most promising emerging technologies. It can provide food, medicine, clean energy, carbon sequestration and other benefits. It can produce at least ten times more oil than the next best oil crop, which is palm oil. Moreover it does not require the use of prime farmland or the destruction of rainforests, problems often associated with oil palm plantations. Instead algae culture can be done on degraded land in a wide range of conditions. Therefore of all possible sources of biofuels algae are the only one that might meet our needs to substitute biofuels for climate damaging fossil fuels in a genuinely sustainable, acceptable way. And many scientists also believe that algae are the future to relieve and solve world hunger with new food sources free of toxins.
Benefits of Algae
Provide truly renewable, clean, ‘green’ biofuels (e.g. ethanol, biodiesel).
Algae can produce 1600 – 12,550 gallons of oil per acre, while the next highest crop, palm, produces only 640
Provide safe, non-toxic products for humans, such as
Supplements and nutraceuticals (e.g. beta-carotene and oils)
Medicines (e.g. topical skin salves)
Provide safe, non-toxic products for animals, such as
Fish food (e.g. for farming tilapia)
Cattle and chicken food
Absorb carbon dioxide.
Can capture carbon dioxide from industrial and fossil fuel facilities, such as processing plants for palm oil.
Clean water and treat wastewater
Assist in desalination
Provide soil supplements
It has been estimated that there is enough degraded, unused land in the tropics to build enough algae culture plants to meet our needs for clean biofuels to replace fossil fuels.
When contemplating any such large-scale venture one has to be careful to ascertain that the land is truly unused. It often turns out that such land is in fact fallow land that the farmer has to go back to after a few years. Here FunaVid’s other area of focus, Inga alley cropping, is highly relevant. When these poor farmers who currently have to leave land fallow to regain some fertility are farming sustainably with Inga alley cropping no fallow land is needed. They can keep cultivating the same plot continuously with better yields than before. When that is achieved on a large scale there should indeed be enough unused land for such purposes as replacing fossil fuels with oil from algae.
Algae technology is new, with serious commitments to development really beginning to take off only in this century. At least 200 companies are exploring it. Biodiesel for cars has already been produced, and algae biofuels have been used to fuel flights powered by biofuel blends. The biggest alga facility in the world is in Winchester, Kentucky. The Petroleum Corporation Exxon issued a fund of 600 million US dollars to study, develop and eventually produce algae. At present production costs are high, but it seems certain that in time these will come down. There is clearly much scope and need for further research and development, something that FunaVid wants to play a part in to benefit Honduras.
FunaVid has good relations with CURLA and the SAT rural schools tutorial program and so is well placed to collaborate with these for both research and teaching. FunaVid also has been collaborating with US scientists and experts in the field who support the project and will be overseeing it and teaching local students and professors from CURLA how to manage it. FunaVid also has land available for the project.
We therefore believe that FunaVid is the most suitable place for an algae culture demonstration project, and propose to develop it to produce foods for human and animal consumption and economical energy without damaging the environment, to the eventual benefit of all Honduras. Please see The algae culture project for more details of our plans.
Once the advantages and benefits of this project are demonstrated, further large-scale projects can be developed. These can be financed or directed by NGOs or governments.
What are algae, and some notes on algae for biofuels
By Dr. Helgi Öpik (from an article "Harvesting the Sea" originally written for the
Friends of the Botanics (Swansea), Newsletter 2012).
Algae (singular alga) are photosynthetic organisms varying from giant seaweeds to microscopic plankton, many unicellular. They all share the photosynthetic mode of life and numerous other features with land plants, but they are a very heterogeneous collection of organisms with their own specific features, too. There is still argument as to whether all, some or none of the algae should be classified in the Plant Kingdom, the Plantae. The algal groups are mostly visibly distinguishable by color, so we have the green, the red, the brown, the yellow-green and the golden algae, as well as diatoms. The green algae are usually included in the Plant Kingdom. All algae do have the same basic green chlorophyll pigments as land plants, but have extra pigments that aid in absorbing light under water.
All the microorganisms originally classified as blue-green algae, (Cyanophyceae or Cyanophyta) are now reclassified as blue-green bacteria (Cyanobacteria). They are photosynthetic, but so are various other bacteria. The blue-greens were found to have bacterial DNA and other fundamental bacterial traits.
Biofuels are not obtained by harvesting the open ocean, but by culturing microalgae,
selected for high oil yield, in sea water – or any saline water. The raw materials are minerals in the water, sunlight and CO2 (carbon dioxide), for which CO2 from industrial smokestacks can be used – an excellent way of disposing of that waste gas.
The culturing is usually done in enclosed bioreactors. Open ponds have been tried, but these are subject to invasion by undesirable “weed” algae, by bacteria and disease-causing viruses. Environmental conditions moreover are not continuously optimal.
This line is highly promising. Useful end products include biodiesel, biogasoline and
aviation fuel from the algal oils, and edible vegetable oil. The algal carbohydrates can be fermented to various alcohols – ethanol, methanol and butanol. The algal residue left over from these processes contains protein, and can be added to animal feed. Pollution is minimal. Bioreactors can be set up on waste ground not utilizable for agriculture and per unit area of ground, bioreactors would produce much more biofuel than is now processed from palm oil, maize and sugarcane.