Algae: you can eat, wear and build with them, and they're renewable. Professor Berat Haznedaroğlu of Boğaziҫi University in Istanbul tells us about current algae research.
What are algae?
Algae are a diverse group of photosynthetic organisms. There are over 200,000 different species, including the algae you see on ponds, rivers and marine species like giant kelp.
At Istanbul Microalgae Biotechnologies Research and Development Center we work with micro-algae – microscopic photosynthetic organisms which we grow in the laboratory.
How do algae grow?
Algae take CO2 from the Earth’s atmosphere through photosynthesis in the same way that plants and trees do. But they can absorb more CO2 and they grow much faster: 1m3 of algae culture is equivalent to 100m2 of forest in carbon capture.
They are not dependent on agricultural land, fertilisation or freshwater. By taking the CO2 produced by industries like petrochemical manufacturers and power plants, the algae can reduce overall CO2 emissions.
Algae also use the nitrogen and phosphorous in wastewater generated by food processing, agricultural, and similar industries to grow.
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What can you make from algae?
Jet fuel, vegan eggs, food colouring and running shoes can all be made from algae. They're even being used on a space mission.
We can blend algae with gasoline to make bio-fuel, and we can convert it into bio-diesel and bio jet-fuel.
Bio-fuels are effective in cutting emissions. Boğaziҫi University is working with Turkish Airlines to understand the full potential of bio jet-fuel. In this project, algae-based lipids are converted into bio-kerosene. That bio-kerosene will be blended with conventional Jet A-1 (aviation fuel) to minimise the greenhouse emissions of the civic aviation industry.
Algae can also be used for animal and human food. It is the original source of omega-3 in fish oil food supplements, so is a vegan alternative to cod liver oil. We can add it to foods to provide potential health benefits, and it's a sustainable source of protein and nutrients.
Algae can produce natural food pigments, including the natural blue colour. Last year the laboratory made 3D printing filaments made from algae which the cultural centre Atelier Luma used to create exhibits for the 2018 Istanbul Bienal. Atelier Luma is also using algae in architecture and design.
We've developed a prototype for a green bus stop. The green bus stop includes an algae filter which can remove polluted air from the low-quality city air and circulate clean air. The first one will be tested on campus next year and this has led to interest from commercial manufacturers of indoor air filters.
And then there’s yoga mats, printer ink, clothing, and even an edible water bottle – all biodegradable.
Why is algae research important now?
More than 40 countries have put a price on carbon. As countries work on reducing their carbon emissions they will be looking to industry to take responsibility for their emissions.
We want to understand algae's potential to remove CO2 from the atmosphere, and as a sustainable resource to help us move from fossil-fuels to a bio-based economy.
So, we are researching the potential for industrial use of algae with our Newton Fund partners at Cambridge University.
Our campus is run entirely on renewable energy, thanks to our on-site wind turbine. It also extracts more CO2 from the atmosphere through the photosynthetic algae we produce.
Bio-refineries growing micro-algae could play a significant part in carbon trading, helping to reduce overall carbon emissions, and producing renewable energy sources.
Cambridge University runs its research from the Algal Innovation Centre, led by Professor Alison Smith – a leader in this field. They have built a glasshouse laboratory to grow micro-algae on a larger scale. This is just one idea we would like to bring back our laboratory in Istanbul.
Berat's research is supported by the Newton-Katip Çelebi Fund.
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