What are the uses of seaweed

5 amazing uses for algae

Algae can do a lot more than float around in a pond: they are the perfect base material for environmentally friendly high-tech applications all over the world. That's 5 of the most amazing.

At Forschungszentrum Jülich, the "Algae Science Center" went into operation in the summer of 2014, in which algae are grown and three production systems for this biomass are compared with one another.

Photo: Matthias Balk / dpa

1. Algae produce oil for biofuel

Denso wants to produce biofuel with algae. The auto parts supplier, which is part of the Toyota Group, is opening a test center in Amakusa in western Japan in 2016. The mass production of the algae Pseudochoricystis ellipsoidea starts in three breeding ponds. It uses photosynthesis to produce an oil that is similar to light mineral oil. Denso wants to convert it into biofuel with the help of microwaves.

Isuzu's works bus runs on algae-based biodiesel.

Source: Isuzu

In comparison to maize or sugar cane, the researchers suspect that the algae provide a more economical basis for biofuel, as they grow faster. The Japanese automotive company Isuzu Motors already put a bus into operation in 2014 that runs on algae diesel.

2. Road asphalt can be made from algae

What French researchers at the University of Nante have discovered also sounds quite unusual. Bio asphalt can be made from microalgae, which is just as durable as classic road surfaces. It works like this: The scientists mix algae with water to form a paste and heat it to 200 ° C in a pressure vessel.

Production of biobitumen: The researchers mix microalgae with water to form a paste and heat it under pressure to a maximum of 200 ° C. They then convert the petroleum-like liquid into biobitumen.

Source: Algosource

This creates a liquid similar to petroleum, which can be converted into so-called bitumen - this is the sticky mass in which grit is embedded. So far it has consisted of petroleum. “Microalgae offer us an attractive solution for conserving oil supplies,” the scientists are convinced.

3. Algae filter agricultural pollutants

Cattle farming causes harmful emissions. Ammonia, which is released when microorganisms break down urea and protein in the excrement of livestock, is particularly problematic. It can disrupt the cell metabolism of trees and acidify soil and water. So what to do Researchers at the Basque Institute Neiker-Tecnallia are convinced that using the microalgae species Chlamydomonas acidophila as a filter.

Microalgae absorb ammonia from organic waste in the laboratory.

Source: Basque Research

They have already been successful in the laboratory: the algae absorb ammonia from organic waste and prevent it from escaping into the atmosphere. After being used as a filter, farmers could use the algae as feed or material for biogas plants.

4. Algae are good food for astronauts

Algae are also great for space travel. Why? Because with their valuable protein they are perfect food for astronauts on long-term missions. At the same time, they are air fresheners: During photosynthesis, the microorganisms absorb carbon dioxide from the air we breathe and convert it into oxygen.

Prototype of a photobioreactor from the University of Stuttgart, in which algae are grown as a food source in space.

Source: Daniel Naupold / dpa

In combination with hydrogen, they could also be converted into electrical energy in fuel cells. In 2018, researchers from the University of Stuttgart want to send the prototype of a breeding system to the International Space Station ISS and grow the blue-green algae Spirulina.

5. You can ski on algae

Skiing on an algae slope? Sounds strange, but it's not that unlikely. Researchers at the Technical University of Dresden have developed an algae carpet called BioGlizz. It grows on a textile culture medium, which in turn lies on a cushioning foam layer. The soft algae are robust and at the same time malleable so that they can slide on them. They could simply grow back overnight in indoor ski resorts. But will ski enthusiasts be able to make friends with a green surface? It's set in the stars.

A contribution by:

  • Patrick Schroeder

    Patrick Schroeder works as a freelance journalist for magazines and online magazines such as VDI Nachrichten and Ingenieur.de.