A Growing Prospect for a Greener Future14 Dec 2020
Since the term ‘climate change’ entered into society’s collective lexicon in the 1990s, the issue has steadily amassed political and societal relevance. Now, with many projected consequences of climate change looming, scientists are investigating innovative solutions to avert crisis — one of the more surprising of which is algae sequestration.
Algae, simple aquatic plants, have been hailed as a potential ‘secret weapon’ for combating climate change due to their ability to store carbon dioxide. While carbon sequestration by healthy forests is often thought to be the most effective way of capturing and storing atmospheric carbon and a necessary step in tackling climate change, some scientists note that the optimal time for planting these trees was actually decades ago—and the amount of time it would take these newly planted forests to capture the necessary amount of carbon is extensive. Because of this, algae may be an ideal alternative, given that algae grow faster than terrestrial plants and are less costly to cultivate.
Additionally, algae have other important sustainable uses. The growing green plant factors into the debate over transportation emissions with its potential use as a biofuel. Certain vehicles including planes and ships require liquid fuel, and biofuels made from aquatic microalgae could help facilitate a transition from fossil fuels to future sustainable options. Algae can also be cultivated in open ponds, where sunlight, carbon dioxide, and water are the only necessary ingredients. Even the process of harvesting microalgae for biofuels is a sustainable process—after the grown microalgae are harvested, the remaining nutrient-rich byproduct can be fed to domestic farm animals.
Perhaps most curiously, algae may be an element in the solution to societal food insecurity. iWi, a nutrition company founded in 2017 and based in Texas, is focused on sustainable farming practices, harvesting nutrient-dense food, and producing algae-based Omega 3. However, investment in algae as a food source is not isolated to the United States. EnerGaia, an algae startup based in Thailand, has partnered with a premiere hotel in Bangkok to operate an urban algae farm. While still in a developmental stage, the potential use of algae to manage food insecurity is an innovative avenue that could possibly benefit many.
While algae have the potential to be utilized for multiple, highly-sustainable purposes, this resource cannot be solely relied upon to reverse global climate impacts. By cultivating algae for carbon sequestration and biofuels in conjunction with national emission reductions and strengthened energy efficiency standards, this innovative solution has the potential to play an important role in readying the world for whatever crises come next.