None other than straight arrow news source Forbes poses this scenario in their latest issue: “Imagine flying on a plane powered by algae biofuel, sitting in a seat constructed from algae-based polymers, while wearing sandals made from algae and eating a meal enhanced with algae-based ingredients.” They go on to say, “The scenario described above is closer to being a reality than most people realize.”
The Algae Industry Today and in the Future
Author John Cumbers observes the algae landscape as it is and where it’s going: Despite the tremendous amount of research and progress over the past decade, one might still argue the algae market is still a nascent industry. The general consumer, outside of seaweed-based food products and agricultural fertilizer, remains largely unaware of the enormous benefits posed by microalgae. That said, there are already visible indicators of its potential positive impact on the world.
“Today, many algae companies operate as separate businesses,” says Takanori Hoshino, executive manager of Chitose Laboratory Corp. in Japan. “The products they create are limited to high-value applications, such as pharmaceuticals or nutraceuticals, but this will change.”
In some respects, the algae industry could be compared to the alternative meat industry before it became more widespread and popular. One of the earliest applications for algae, synthetic biofuels, proved overly challenging, as companies at that time could not scale production to meet demands, resulting in inefficient economics.
Over the past few years, the increased use of “enclosed” (versus open) bioreactors (AKA photobioreactors) has enabled algae companies to decrease their reliance upon facilities subject to rapidly changing (outdoor) atmospheric conditions. Fundamentally, these more cost-effective, enclosed bioreactors depend primarily on photosynthetic reactions performed by chlorophyll-containing algae, using only dissolved carbon dioxide and sunlight energy.
As a result, companies have started to think beyond using algae for biofuels to focus on alternative applications like food ingredients, animal feed, and bioplastic replacements…of which can be produced at scale and quite frankly, more easily assimilated into society.
The author contends the future of the algae industry is extremely promising, as these natural organisms are plentiful, found around the world, and can be used to produce a wide variety of consumer products…while effectively lowering the environmental impact of traditional manufacturing methods.
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