In recent years, algae has been found in more and more headlines for some surprising reasons. Algae is extremely valuable, even in its ability to fight back against climate change.
Algae may be an important part of the planet’s future, as it can help limit greenhouse gases while also providing a nutritious and sustainable alternative to many products in our day-to-day routines. See for yourself just how this unique plant can have a significant role in protecting our climate by capturing carbon.
What Is Algae?
Algae is a plant organism found in both salt and freshwater. Although it is a type of plant, algae lacks the typical structure of most plants, as it has no stem, leaves, or roots. There are possibly hundreds of thousands of different species of algae, some of which can be consumed for their nutrient profiles.
With many vitamins, antioxidants, and other nutrients, some forms of algae, like Spirulina, have even been labeled as a superfood. Algae delivers many other benefits as well, and as scientists continue to study this organism, we continue to discover new ones.
How Does Algae Pose a Solution To Climate Change?
Climate change is fueled by the greenhouse gases in the atmosphere that trap heat and contribute to higher temperatures worldwide. One of the most potent gases in the atmosphere is carbon dioxide, also known as CO2.
CO2 is the most significant greenhouse gas and the biggest contributor to climate change. This gas is released naturally into the atmosphere through the breath of animals, volcanic eruptions, plant respiration, and the ocean. However, humans have significantly increased the amount of CO2 being released into the atmosphere by burning fossil fuels through cars and manufacturing.
The buildup of CO2 and other greenhouse gases in the atmosphere leads to increased global temperatures as the molecules from these gases absorb more radiation from the sun. To combat this process, it is crucial to limit the amount of carbon released into the atmosphere. An even better option is to remove the carbon already there.
Algae may be a proper solution to this problem thanks to its carbon sequestration abilities. This means that algae can remove carbon directly from the atmosphere and reduce its harmful effects. The ability of algae to sequester carbon dioxide is so impressive that scientists and governmental agencies have even proposed producing algae next to power plants that burn coal or natural gas, where the emissions could be absorbed by the algae rather than emitted to the atmosphere.
How Does Algae Capture Carbon?
Algae’s ability to remove carbon from the atmosphere could be a powerful tool, but what exactly is carbon sequestration, and how does it work?
One of the most important laws of physics is that matter can’t be destroyed, so although we see that the carbon in the atmosphere is harmful, we cannot make it disappear. Therefore, we have to find a way to put it somewhere else less harmful. Carbon sequestration is the process of removing CO2 from the atmosphere and converting it into a solid or liquid form.
How does algae factor in? Like all plants, algae produces energy through a process called photosynthesis. Through the process of photosynthesis, algae uses sunlight and carbon dioxide to produce their own energy, cell structures, and new cells. Through this process, algae are absorbing the carbon and releasing the oxygen (the O2 of CO2) back into the air, generating over 50% of the world’s total oxygen.
Carbon-rich algae is also an important food source for many important aquatic creatures, like shellfish and other fish. Once these creatures consume the algae, the carbon is repurposed in that organism as new cell structures, parts of the their shells, or excreted into the ocean. This carbon rich waste then falls to the ocean floor and ends up buried in the soil, effectively sequestering it!
The best part is that this process is entirely natural and has been in effect for millions of years. Algae is already responsible for removing between 45 and 50% of the CO2 in the atmosphere. Since the process is a natural one, there are far fewer drawbacks compared to other, more expensive means of removing carbon from the atmosphere, like drilling holes in the seafloor.
If scientists are able to mimic this capability of carbon sequestration, it could have remarkable results — all it takes is producing enough algae and safely storing it! Altogether, algae offers plenty of promise for the future of the planet.
What Are Other Benefits of Algae?
The more algae that is produced, the more benefits this organism can have on the planet. The biggest benefit of algae is that it is versatile and has plenty to offer — there are many reasons to produce more algae. In doing so, we can help promote the health of the planet while sustainably supporting our own needs.
Carbon dioxide is one of just three main compounds needed to farm algae. Therefore, not only is it good for the environment once it is produced, but it is also sustainable to produce, making it an all-around excellent choice when considering the health of the environment.
iwi life paves the way for sustainable algae production. In our production process, we use no freshwater, instead relying on salty water found in natural underground aquifers in deserts in the Southwest United States. In doing so, we preserve important resources, and even when using this salty water, we can recycle as much as 97% of the harvested water for future production.
Since all of our algae is produced in deserts, it doesn’t take space away from crops or other goods that require fertile soil. Because it requires so few resources to grow, algae can be easily produced in greater amounts with fewer consequences. With such sustainable and scalable production methods, algae is almost limitless in its potential.
An Alternative Source of Nutrition
Some types of algae are also highly nutritious and makes for a great supplement to our daily diets. In fact, some are classified as superfoods, full of amazing nutrients like protein, antioxidants, B vitamins, and healthy fats, among many others. One algae in particular, Nannochloropsis, produces highly important nutrients, omega-3 fatty acids DHA and EPA.
These two nutrients are responsible for many potential health benefits, like helping to maintain a healthy blood pressure, promoting healthy joints, and supporting proper cognitive function. However, there are few sources of both DHA and EPA.
Currently, the most popular sources of these omega-3s are either eating fatty fish or taking krill oil and fish oil supplements.
Despite being less well-known, algae-based supplements are a great way to obtain these two nutrients and experience the potential health benefits without any animal-derived ingredients. Since algae is such an excellent source of omega-3s, it allows people to move away from supplements like fish and krill oil. By replacing these supplements, algae can help keep these important creatures in the ocean and protect their ecosystems.
A Replacement for Unsustainable Foods
With unmatched levels of productivity, algae are able to produce more protein than other foods in less land area. This makes algae a likely protein source for our everyday diets.
The potential of algae to replace animal-based food products has huge ramifications since the farming of animals for human consumption is one of the most significant contributors to greenhouse gases and climate change.
By replacing other more harmful goods and reducing their carbon-intensive production practices, algae stands as a source of hope for a more sustainable future.
See the Potential of Algae for Yourself
With its carbon-capturing powers, unique production methods, and nutritional benefits, algae is a potential solution to climate change. By embracing the potential of this abundant plant, we can support the planet's health in multiple ways.
At iwi life, we are passionate about leveraging the many powers of algae — for both our health and the planet. This is why we are proud of our algae-based omega-3 supplements, which provide a powerful and sustainable source of plant-based nutrition.
Explore our complete family of omega-3 supplements for yourself to see all the potential benefits that algae can offer for your overall health.
Basics of Climate Change | US EPA
Tanks of algae may herald future of carbon capture tech | UBNow: News and views for UB faculty and staff
Algae-Based Carbon Sequestration | IOP Conference Series