Algae — could these green and slimy organisms offer a solution to the impending climate crisis? As per researchers, they might indeed! With a little help of Artificial Intelligence (AI), the algae in a well-optimised environment of a bioreactor can remove carbon dioxide gas from the atmosphere and may even be harvested to produce biofuels, animal feeds and fertilisers. If this technology becomes economically sustainable and scalable, not only it will draw out greenhouse gases from the atmosphere but it will also help in the reduction of greenhouse gases emission.
Found naturally in most water bodies and saltwater around the world, algae usually do not pose a threat to us. However, climate change in recent years has been favouring the growth of harmful algae in our environment. Periods of drought and heavy rainfall cause fertilisers from the agricultural fields to run off into the water bodies making them nutrient-rich. In addition to a nutrient-rich environment, the warmer temperature due to climate change has led an overgrowth of algae. The harmful blue-green algae bloom, specifically, has been blocking sunlight from entering the deeper parts of water bodies and has depleted oxygen resulting in the creation of dead zones. So, it is refreshing to see their roles changing with the advent of newer technologies and it gives us hope in our fight against climate change.
It is estimated that algae in an AI-powered bioreactor are 400 times more efficient than a tree in removing carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. As algae cover more surface area, grow faster and can be easily controlled in a bioreactor, they can extract more carbon than a tree. Scientists claim that by tweaking and optimising the environment in which algae grow, the bioreactor can remove as much carbon dioxide from the air as an acre of trees! A large number of algae can be put in bioreactors and in their optimised environment, once the algae extract carbon dioxide, they are further dehydrated as a dry film which can be eventually used as biofuel, fertilisers, or mixed with animal feed. It was found that chickens which were fed with algae supplemented feeds, produced eggs which had three times the omega-3 fatty acids. The algal biofuels — with no greenhouse gas emissions — are considered a better option than other biofuels such as ethanol and biodiesel which are produced from food crops such as corn, palm and soy. Further, as microalgae can grow faster than terrestrial plants, it can produce an equal amount of food but in less than one-tenth the agricultural land. This can replace land-based agricultural practices and hence reduce greenhouse gases emissions to a greater extent.
Algae could open up a plethora of climate solutions and can help us in combating the ongoing global warming. However, full implementation and development of these solutions may take a while as their economic sustainability and scalability remain questionable and have been facing some hurdles and obstructions in the present time. With more research and investments in this field, we can not only achieve food and energy security but we can also reach our climate stabilisation targets.