Marine Microalgae, A New Sustainable Food And Fuel Source

2016-11-28T09:39:26+00:00 November 28, 2016|
Nannochloropsis sp. is a type of marine microalgae. (Credit: CSIRO)

(Click to enlarge) Nannochloropsis sp. is a type of marine microalgae. (Credit: CSIRO)

Taken from the bottom of the marine food chain, microalgae may soon become a top-tier contender to combat global warming, as well as energy and food insecurity, according to a study by researchers associated with the Cornell Algal Biofuel Consortium, published in the journal Oceanography.

(From ScienceDaily)– “We may have stumbled onto the next green revolution,” said Charles H. Greene, professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, and lead author of the new paper, “Marine Microalgae: Climate, Energy and Food Security From the Sea.” The study presents an overview to the concept of large-scale industrial cultivation of marine microalgae, or ICMM for short.

ICMM could reduce fossil fuel use by supplying liquid hydrocarbon biofuels for the aviation and cargo shipping industries. The biomass of microalgae remaining after the lipids have been removed for biofuels can then be made into nutritious animal feeds or perhaps consumed by humans.

To make the biofuel, scientists harvest freshly grown microalgae, remove most of the water, and then extract the lipids for the fuel. The remaining defatted biomass is a protein-rich and highly nutritious byproduct — one that can be added to feeds for domesticated farm animals, like chickens and pigs, or aquacultured animals, like salmon and shrimp.

After consuming the algae-supplemented feeds, chickens produce eggs with three times the omega-3 fatty acids, according to previous Cornell research.

Growing enough algae to meet the current global liquid fuel demand would require an area of about 800,000 square miles, or slightly less than three times the size of Texas. At the same time, 2.4 billion tons of protein co-product would be generated, which is roughly 10 times the amount of soy protein produced globally each year.

Marine microalgae do not compete with terrestrial agriculture for arable land, nor does growing it require freshwater. Many arid, subtropical regions — such as Mexico, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia — would provide suitable locations for producing vast amounts of microalgae.

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