Science

Algae promises to fight pollution, make biofuel

By Enozia Vakil , Jun 28, 2013 01:45 PM EDT
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Researchers from the University of Delaware have discovered how Heterosigma akashiwo, a microscopic alga, may help reduce pollution and generate biofuel.

This alga grows on a gas mixture, which has the same amount of carbon dioxide and nitric oxide as the gas released by power plant emissions do.

"The algae thrive on the gas, associate professor of marine biosciences in UD's College of Earth, Ocean, and Environment, Kathryn Coyne explained."They grow twice as fast and the cells are much larger in size compared to when growing without gas treatment."

Apart from this, the algae also produce carbohydrates, which could be converted to bioethanol, which could prove to be a source of green energy for vehicles.

Heterosigma akashiwo, found worldwide in natural environments, could hold many benefits both in industrial and environmental use. Their ability to neutralize nitric oxide- a potentially dangerous gas that threatens human life and the environment could render them useful for many applications to lessen pollution and produce green energy.

For a year, the scientists worked on the algae in the laboratory and discovered that it doesn't just tolerate the flue (emissions from power plants) gas, but it also flourishes and grows in it. Furthermore, this alga doesn't need any additional nitrogen source to survive, which reduces the cost of raising it for biofuel production to a considerable level.

"This alone could save up to 45 percent of the required energy input to grow algae for biofuel," Coyne added.

"Our approach to the issue is to not just produce biofuels, but to also use this species for bioremediation of industrial flue gas to reduce harmful effects even further."

The researchers are planning to study how condition changes could affect the growth of this alga. Partnerships with companies to speed up the use of these algae as sources of fuel could prove to be fruitful.

The research was funded by the Delaware Sea Grant College Program. 

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