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Marine Microalgae: Food and Fuel of the Future

Nov 23, 2016 04:54 AM EST
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Researchers from the Cornell Algal Biofuel Consortium have just promoted a new ingredient in the battle against global warming as well as food and energy insecurity: marine microalgae.

Published in the journal Oceanography, Charles H. Greene and his colleagues presented an overview on the concept of large-scale industrial cultivation of marine microalgae, or ICMM for short. "We may have stumbled onto the next green revolution." Greene, a professor of earth and atmospheric sciences, is the lead author of the new paper Marine Microalgae: Climate, Energy and Food Security From the Sea.

One of the advantages of ICMM is the reduction of fossil fuel use by supplying liquid hydrocarbon biofuels for the aviation and cargo shipping industries. Scientists harvest freshly grown microalgae and remove most of the water then extract the lipids for the fuel. The remaining defatted biomass is a protein-rich and highly nutritious byproduct that can be added to feeds for domesticated farm animals, like chickens and pigs, or aquacultured animals, like salmon and shrimp. It could also, potentially, be consumed by humans.

Since marine microalgae do not require arable land nor does it need freshwater, arid regions like Mexico, North Africa, the Middle East and Australia could still produce vast amounts of microalgae.

"I think of algae as providing food security for the world," said Greene. "It will also provide our liquid fuels needs, not to mention its benefits in terms of land use. We can grow algae for food and fuels in only one-tenth to one one-hundredth the amount of land we currently use to grow food and energy crops."

Greene believes microalgae's potential is great. "We got into this looking to produce fuels, and in the process, we found an integrated solution to so many of society's greatest challenges."

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