About algae and cyanobacteria
Photosynthesis performed by microscopic plants was responsible for the formation of our fossil oil reserves, millions of years ago. As currently these reserves are declining, we are again looking at the potential of photosynthesis to (re)capture inorganic carbon and convert it into the organic molecules that are the feedstock of all carbon based food and fuel available today. Microalgae and cyanobacteria have great potential as a photosynthetic catalyst as they have some important advantages over traditional agricultural crops. For example, the predicted areal productivities of microalgae are much higher and can be obtained without the use of arable land. Many algal species are salt tolerant and therefore sea water can be used for cultivation.
Microalgae, also called phytoplankton by biologists, are very small plant-like organisms between 1-50 micrometres in diameter without roots or leaves. Together with the seaweeds (macroalgae or large aquatic plants), microalgae are part of the so-called aquatic biomass. Microalgae are very common (hundreds of thousands species exist) and occur both in freshwater and seawater where they form the basis for most food chains. Most species contain chlorophyll, use sunlight as an energy source and convert carbon dioxide (CO2) into biomass. In this process of photosynthesis the algae produce oxygen (O2). On a global scale microalgae produce more than 75% of the oxygen required for animals and humans.
The range of products that can be produced with microalgae and cyanobacteria varies from fine chemicals, such as pigments and poly unsaturated fatty acids, to products that are suitable for bulk applications, such as starch, protein and lipids. In recent years more than 15,000 new chemical compounds were discovered in algae, and the list of products made from algae is expanding steadily.
More information on microalgae, their products and cultivation can be found in these publications. They are available for download here, but can also be ordered hardcopy through these websites:
Microalgen: het groene goud van de toekomst?
Microalgae: the green gold of the future?
Algen – de groene belofte