Stephanie Ng : 5/23/2016
Microalgae are microscopic algae that are typically found in either freshwater or marine systems, and they are unicellular species that exist individually but can also thrive in groups. They are essential to life on earth since they are capable of performing photosynthesis and produce approximately half of the atmospheric oxygen while consuming copious amounts of carbon dioxide to grow. As such, they form part of the basis of the food chain. Microalgae also have the ability to generate useful products, such as fatty acids, enzymes, or peptides. Their usefulness in a variety of industries has become increasingly apparent, and efforts have been made to utilize their natural functions in different ways.
One of the important ideas behind microalgae is the use of it to provide different processes that will improve sustainability in the long-term. Microalgae can be utilized to create biofuels, food with nutritional value, or various oils. As a first step, microalgae are cultivated in large quantities. A characteristic that makes microalgae particularly helpful is how quickly they can grow, which can shorten the amount of time between harvests. In addition, they can be grown in places that do not support most crop growth, areas that have high salinity levels. The growth of microalgae can also use water that is not suitable for drinking or other agriculture which helps with sustainability. The algae does not require pesticides or herbicides, improving upon the generated toxicity that other crops would produce in the long-term.
Microalgae have recently been used to create biofuels as an alternative to corn or other fossil fuels. Though they also release carbon dioxide upon use, they only release the gas that it recently removed from the atmosphere through photosynthesis. With biofuel, burnable compounds can be extracted from the microalgae after it has dried, such as triglycerides. The microalgae biofuel compared to others such as soybeans will yield a higher oil productivity, allowing it to have a smaller impact on the environment. These fuels also are less toxic than ones, for example, that are petroleum-based. The different qualities of microalgae have made it a more sustainable product overall.
Furthermore, microalgae have been shown to possess a lot of properties that would make it a great food enhancer. They are a novel source of bioactive molecules and are very nutrient-dense, containing high amounts of lipids, protein, vitamins, minerals, etc. Different species of algae include spirulina, chlorella, or dunaliella, and they provide a variety of benefits. For example, spirulina can help with producing Υ-linolenic acid (GLA), and it can help reduce the amount of low-density lipoprotein in patients. Chlorella is a rich source of protein and other nutrients, in addition to reducing blood lipids. Dunaliella can be used to produce high concentrations of carotenes.
By exploring all the possibilities, microalgae can be utilized to increase productivity in a variety of fields, such as food, agriculture, or fuel. Even better, this area of microalgae innovation will also increase sustainability, allowing us to save resources and reduce our negative impact on the environment.
1. Chacon-Lee, T.L., Gonzalez-Marino, G.E., Microalgae for “Healthy” Foods—Possibilities and Challenges. Comprehensive Reviews in Food Science and Food Safety. [Online] 2010, 655-675.