Amazing Chlorella: Dietary supplement can be used in energy industry

Credit: Adobe Stock
Credit: Adobe Stock

They have a beautiful green colour, they are easy to culture and efficiently absorb carbon dioxide. Their potential can be used in the energy industry. Scientists at the Department of Environmental Engineering at the Faculty of Geoengineering of the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn are working on technological solutions that will enable the large scale use of Chlorella algae.

The research results so far are so promising that scientists are looking for industrial plants that would test their ideas.

Chlorella is a genus of microscopic green algae, known for its nutritional value and often used as a dietary supplement. Research conducted at the Faculty of Geoengineering of the University of Warmia and Mazury in Olsztyn, however, focuses on other properties of Chlorella, including its carbon dioxide absorption capacity and the possibility of using bio-oils the cells of these algae contain.

Scientists led by Professor Marcin Zieliński are also working on solutions that would allow to culture them on a massive scale.

'Algae have great potential. We focused on the properties of Chlorella that could be successfully used in the energy industry, i.e. bio-oil production, and the ability to capture carbon dioxide – biosequestration', emphasises Professor Marcin Zieliński. He adds that the main goal of the team of researchers is to create conditions for growing as much algae as possible, which will capture a lot of CO2, and at the same time accumulate as much bio-oil as possible in the cells.

We already know that algae can accumulate much more of it than other known oily plants.

Scientists from the University of Warmia and Mazury argue that algae oil can be used in the same way as, for example, rapeseed oil: in the food industry, as a dietary supplement, a health-promoting product, or as biofuel.

According to Dr. Paulina Rusanowska from the research team, the latter use is the most desired one.

'To convert this oil into biofuel, it is necessary to carry out various processes, the end product of which will be biodiesel. Our research shows that this is certainly possible', she emphasises.

The main goal of the scientists from Olsztyn is to develop technological solutions that will allow to obtain a large amount of algae in the shortest possible time and as cheaply as possible. And although it is not easy on an industrial scale, researchers believe that they will soon be able to test these solutions in practice.

'We have already tested them in laboratory conditions and this stage is completed. We are now looking for industrial plants that would be interested in testing the solutions we have developed. We want to cooperate with companies that, for example, produce exhaust gases and want to reduce CO2 emissions. Algae can be used for flue gas purification from carbon dioxide, and at the same time also get other valuable products, such as bio-oil or organic fertilizer from algae', Zieliński explains.

Dr. Rusanowska emphasises that at this stage it can be said with high certainty that it is possible to grow Chlorella in a profitable way in a large industrial plant. 'Of course, this is associated with a large investment in the initial stage because you need to build reactors for algae cultures, provide light and nitrogen and phosphorus medium. However, we believe that the solutions we propose will work and such an investment will pay off', she adds.

Talks with the first interested parties are already underway. The scientists have brought their idea to the program announced by Grupa Azoty - a manufacturer of fertilizers and feed. Other companies also invited to cooperate.

The research team members are: Professor Marcin Zieliński; Professor Marcin Dębowski; Dr. Magda Dudek; Dr. Anna Nowicka; Dr. Paulina Rusanowska; Łukasz Barczak.

PAP - Science in Poland, Agnieszka Libudzka

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