Posted by: Prospector PJ13 NOV 2008
To some, that annoying slime that grows in your aquarium or garden pond is the great white green hope for the future. The Science Museum is currently running an exhibition that asks, “Can algae change the world?” Maybe they can, but if you need convincing, then visit the International Algae Congress on December 3 and 4 (2008) in Amsterdam.
The official word on algae from the Natural History Museum is this: “A general term of convenience for phylogenetically unrelated organisms that undertake photosynthesis and/or possess plastids. They are extraordinarily diverse and range from solitary cells through to complex multicellular forms several metres in length.”
The bright future for algae lies in their potential use as a biofuel. Once algae cells are split into their constituent parts, the green mass can be sold as feed for fish and oyster farms and the vegetable oil processed into engine oil.
The main problem still to overcome is producing the raw material in sufficient quantities. It has been suggested that a land mass the size of Ireland would have to be devoted to algae production to fuel the world’s civil aviation industry.
Using heat, light and a steady supply of carbon dioxide, algae can reproduce faster than any other plant on earth. And the big green plus in algae’s favour is that every 1kg of the stuff consumes 3kg of carbon dioxide. This means that tubes of algae could be grown on brownfield sites next to, for example, a power station, to soak up emissions.
Aeroplanes could be flying on algae-based fuel as soon as 2010, cutting down emissions from aviation fuel.
If you’re a fan of algae but cannot make it to the international congress, check out www.algaebase.org. This site lists 122,828 species, contains 6,547 images and nominates an “alga of the week” to keep you interested.