Algae as a Solution to Climate Change and Carbon Capture

Algae as a Solution to Climate Change and Carbon Capture


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 characterization and 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 and Chlorella, 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 of global warming, 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 carbon removal 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 absorb the carbon and release 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 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 natural process of carbon capture and storage 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 direct air capture and 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.

Sustainable Production

Carbon dioxide is one of just three main compounds needed to farm algae. Therefore, by remediating CO2 from a flue gas source, we can positively impact the environment and sustainably produce it.

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, complex carbohydrates, 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 healthy blood pressure, supporting 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

Algae's productivity is truly unmatched. Capable of producing more protein per square foot than traditional crops, algae represents an exciting possibility for future food sources. 

As the global population continues to rise, the demand for protein-rich foods is increasing. Traditional methods of protein production, such as livestock farming and soy cultivation, often require vast amounts of land and water, making them unsustainable in the long run. 

Algae, on the other hand, can be grown efficiently and sustainably in a variety of environments, including salty water and barren land, making it a game-changer in the world of sustainable food production.

The potential of algae to replace animal-based food products cannot be overstated. Livestock farming is not only resource-intensive but also a significant contributor to greenhouse gas emissions. If we can shift even a portion of our protein intake to algae-based sources, we could significantly reduce our carbon footprint while still meeting our nutritional needs.

By replacing more harmful goods and reducing atmospheric carbon emissions and other harmful byproducts, algae stands as a beacon of hope for a future focused on sustainability. It represents a low-cost, large-scale solution to the pressing problem of how to feed our growing population without further damaging the Earth in the process. 

Biofuel Production

One of the most exciting applications of algae is in the realm of biofuel production. Algae-based biomass represents a renewable and more environmentally friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels. 

Unlike fossil fuels, which release CO2 emissions into the atmosphere when burned, biofuels made from algae actually capture carbon dioxide from the atmosphere during their growth

Not only that, but the process of cultivating algae for biofuel requires less land and water compared to traditional biofuel crops like corn and soy, making it a more sustainable choice for bioenergy and climate change mitigation. The combination of these factors makes algae a leading contender for biofuel and biodiesel production.

Wastewater Treatment 

Algae's environmental benefits also extend into the realm of wastewater treatment, offering a natural, cost-effective solution to a significant environmental issue. 

Certain types of microalgae possess the ability to absorb harmful pollutants from wastewater, including nitrogen, phosphate, and sulfur, as well as heavy metals. This filtration process not only purifies the water, but also prevents these pollutants from entering our waterways and damaging aquatic ecosystems, therefore playing a vital role in maintaining the health of our water bodies.

Additionally, the algae grown during the wastewater treatment process can be harvested and utilized for biofuel production, creating a sustainable loop of aquaculture that offers dual benefits. This cyclical process of water purification and renewable energy generation showcases the remarkable versatility of algae and its potential to contribute to a more sustainable future.

Soil Fertilizer 

Algae's potential to revolutionize agricultural practices on an industrial scale cannot be overstated. Whenever algae die off, they decompose into a nutrient-rich compost that can be used as a natural fertilizer for soil. This not only enhances the fertility of the soil but also eliminates the need for harmful chemical fertilizers, thereby promoting sustainable farming practices.

The introduction of algae into soil also helps to improve soil structure, enhancing its ability to retain water and essential nutrients and wake up the soil microbiome. This, in turn, boosts plant growth and increases crop yield, contributing to food security while promoting agricultural sustainability.

Animal Feed

In the realm of animal nutrition, algae's rich nutrient profile makes it an excellent candidate for animal feed. Packed with protein, vitamins, and minerals, it provides all the necessary nutrients for livestock, promoting their health and productivity.

Furthermore, the use of algae as animal feed reduces the environmental impact of livestock farming. Traditional feed crops often require extensive land, water, and other resources for their cultivation. 

Algae, on the other hand, can be produced sustainably and efficiently in a variety of environments, including areas unsuitable for traditional agriculture. This makes it a more environmentally friendly and sustainable choice for animal feed.

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


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