"The groundwork of all happiness is health." - Leigh Hunt

Algae's Surprising Potential to Mitigate Climate Change Concerns

Thanks to University of Houston algae research, scientists are on the verge of taking a giant step closer to the goal of net zero carbon emissions. Large-scale studies of algae within the Microbial Products Lab at UH in Sugar Land are revealing hidden potential.

The research project is detailed in a newly published article in a journal of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

Venkatesh Balan, associate professor of engineering technology within the Division of Technology at UH's Cullen College of Engineering, is exploring surprising traits amongst tiny freshwater and saltwater phototropic (light-sensitive) organisms called microalgae. Is.

Microalgae carbon dioxide (CO2From the environment. But it's its ability, through a series of processes, to convert the CO it captures2 Mass-produced proteins, lipids, and carbohydrates are of biggest interest to Ballin and his team of researchers.

“This green process goes beyond climate issues. For example, it could also change the way we make food,” said Ballin, who has been studying algae for seven years. His research evaluates using microalgae for wastewater treatment and the potential of using algal biomass to make food, fertilizers, fuels and chemicals. Algae grown in freshwater treatments, equivalent to spirulina, are getting used in health supplements and cosmetics. In the longer term, microalgae may very well be used as a sustainable feedstock to provide biofuels and biochemicals that would reduce dependence on fossil fuels.

Microalgae's most immediate superpower, nevertheless, is its ability to play a key role within the worldwide response to global warming.

“We are experiencing climate change. The 100 degree heat this summer that lasted for three months here in Texas and in many other parts of the world is unprecedented. This is evidence of climate change. Can't deny,” Balan said.

The greenhouse effect — through which certain gases are evaporating from Earth's atmosphere, trapping heat closer to the planet — accelerates warming. Greenhouse gases could be any gas that absorbs infrared radiation. In Earth's atmosphere, CO2 and chlorofluorocarbons are necessary aspects.

“There is a lot of interest among legislators and policymakers, even among companies that emit greenhouse gases, to find alternatives, especially for industrial emissions,” Balan said.

But industry can't be blamed for all of the pollution problems that plague us. “On your desk or in your pantry, you see the food. What's harder to imagine are the greenhouse gases emitted by the orchard that grows the fruit, the factory that makes the breakfast cereal, Transportation that delivers cookies to your neighborhood increases your own trip to buy food, but it's easy to overlook the problem because we can't see it, yet all consumers, in their own way, are green. contribute to the House effect.”

Therefore, if CO2 And other chemicals are harming our climate, how can we take care of excess CO?2 In our surroundings? Until now, a lot of the scientific world has discussed capturing CO.2 And burying it, possibly under an ocean or other large body of water, is an expensive, energy-intensive proposition.

“We are coming up with an alternate approach of using algae to repair CO.2 Then using the carbon to make bioproducts which are useful to mankind,'' Balan explained.

Ballin and his research assistant Masha Alian recently discovered that algae could be used as a substrate to grow fungi, one other great tool for achieving a net zero carbon footprint. A symbiotic relationship between algae and fungi could be present in lichens, that are composite organisms — part algae, part fungus. A typical site in rural Texas and elsewhere, lichen (sometimes misnamed tree moss) is a preferred food for deer and other animals that dig it from tree trunks where it grows within the wild.

In Ballin's lab, researchers try to mimic how lichen grows in nature. “Algae produce oxygen, and algae fix CO.2 and produces oxygen,” Ballin explained. As a bonus, much of the food bed containing algae and fungi could be was healthy food products.