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The Hidden Potential of Algae

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03 Apr, 2024

This post was originally published on Luxiders

Algae are more valuable than perhaps you might think. They have proved to be a sustainable alternative in many industries. Food, fuel, plastic and fighter of climate change. We are only starting to figure out their true potential.

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Predominantly aquatic photosynthetic organisms of the kingdom Protista, algae have been on Earth long before humans. Algae are different from complex plants, however they contain chloroplasts which make photosynthesis possible. Even though algae are ancient, their true potential has only recently been discovered and widely recognized. So, why do we need algae more than we expected?

CARBON DIOXIDE (CO2) ABSORPTION

According to the Environmental Protection Agency, almost 80% of greenhouse gas emissions come in the form of CO2. Scientists have discovered that algae have the capacity to draw carbon dioxide out of the atmosphere by converting it to biomass and oxygen via photosynthesis. It happens at a relatively fast pace. While one acre of a forest utilizes 2,18 kilograms of CO2 per day, one acre of algae utilizes around 2,7 tons of carbon dioxide. The carbon sequestration abilities of algae are so impressive that they may play a crucial role in combating climate change.

ANIMAL FEED SUPPLEMENTS

Following carbon dioxide, methane is the second most important greenhouse gas that contributes to climate change. Agriculture accounts for roughly 40% of human-caused emissions of methane, a hazardous air pollutant and a potent greenhouse gas. Since methane is an even more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide, cutting methane can have a major positive climate change impact. One of them is slowing down global warming. The majority of agricultural methane emissions come from livestock farming.

Certain species of algae, such as Asparagopsis taxiformis, can reduce up to 82% of methane emissions by cattle when small amounts are added to their feed. Moreover, algae’s nutrients, proteins and vitamins provide all necessary for a healthy and sustainable animal nutrition. The use of algae in animal feed also reduces environmental impact of traditional feed crops production, as algae can be produced efficiently in a variety of environments.

SOIL FERTILIZER

In the realm of agriculture, algae also can be used as a natural fertilizer for soil. A nutrient-rich algae compost not only enhances the fertility of soil but also promotes sustainable farming practices by replacing harmful chemical fertilizers. Additionally, algae-based soil fertilizers increase water retention, stimulate microbial activity in the soil and foster nutrient availability to plants.

BIOFUEL PRODUCTION

The use of algae in the field of fuel production is of great interest too. Although algae does not have the energetic efficiency of fossil fuels, it can be burned as a biofuel to power transportation. Algae-based biofuels represent a renewable and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Unlike fossil fuels, when dry algae biomass is burned, it releases more oxygen and less carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, which would have a positive environmental impact.

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Trung Dang The © via Unsplash

BIOPLASTIC PRODUCTION

Plastic pollution has become one of the biggest environmental issues. Plastic waste stays in the environment for years, turning into tiny particles known as microplastics. Microplastics spread all over the world interfering with the food chain and posing hazards for people, animals and the environment. But what if there was a different kind of plastic that would biodegrade? Algae come into play here revolutionizing the entire plastic production.

A group of researchers from the University of Tübingen has introduced a new player in bioplastic production: cyanobacteria, also known as microalgae. Some algae naturally contain and produce bioplastics in the form of polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB). According to the study, after some genetic modifications, the amount of PHB produced by the bacteria increased so enormously that it eventually accounted for more than 80% of the cell’s total mass. The amount of PHB produced from the bacteria is so large that one day it may replace polypropylene, the second most widely used traditional plastic. 

NUTRITION AND NUTRITIONAL SUPPLEMENTS

Algae also offer numerous health benefits due to their richness of nutrients such as proteins and dietary fibers, as well as high levels of iodine, calcium, magnesium, iron and various vitamins. Algae are highly nutritious and make for a great supplement. With their low-calorie content and high bioavailability, algae make a valuable addition to a balanced diet, promoting overall health and well-being. Algae are especially good for vegans because they contain a big variety of proteins and the vitamin B12 that is usually contained only in animal products. 

Furthermore, some types of algae contain omega-3 fatty acids. The omega-3s found in most plants are not nearly as potent as in fish. Luckily for those who don’t enjoy eating fish or taking fish oil supplements, algae is an exception. It is a plant-based source of omega-3s, and unlike nuts and seeds, the fatty acids within it are easily absorbed by the body. The omega-3 fatty acids maintain heart health, support cognitive function, ease rheumatoid arthritis symptoms, and even reduce the risk for depression.

ALGAE IN COSMETICS

Since the beauty industry continues to embrace natural and sustainable ingredients, algae have received more attention recently as an eco-friendly option for achieving radiant and healthy-looking skin. In the realm of cosmetics, especially skincare, algae are emerging as a powerful ingredient, offering a multitude of benefits for skincare and beauty

Research has found that marine algae can be used to fight against oxidative stress that leads to skin aging. Skin aging is a slow process related to the reduction of collagen production and decrease of several enzymatic activities that lead to many changes in the texture of skin. Rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants, algae act as a natural anti-aging complex and protect it against environmental stressors, whereas contained chlorophyll contributes to the oxygen supply of the skin. From moisturizers and serums to masks and exfoliants, algae-infused products are known for their soothing and calming effects that make them suitable for sensitive skin.

Highlight Image: © The Tampa Bay Estuary Program via Unsplash

+  Words:
Kseniia Gavrilova
Luxiders Magazine

Der Beitrag The Hidden Potential of Algae erschien zuerst auf Sustainable Fashion – Eco Design – Healthy Lifestyle – Luxiders Magazine.

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