Uses of Algae
Algae are plant-like organisms that do not have roots, leaves, stems, and vascular tissue and possess simple reproductive structures. They can be found in marine water, fresh water, soil, air or other organisms. Algae are subcategorised into photosynthetic and aquatic. One of the interesting facts about algae is that they can be found as microscopic organisms and on the other hand they can be very large such as marine seaweeds which grow about 50 meters. Further, algae are divided into the following two types:
Microalgae can be defined as a unicellular form of algae, and on the other hand, Macroalgae is the multicellular form of algae.
Uses of Algae
i) Food and Health
Algae is rich in carbohydrates, protein, enzymes, and fibre, so it is used as a food and is good for health. Also, the alga is enriched with vitamins and minerals such as calcium, iron, magnesium, iodine, potassium as well as vitamin A, C, B1, B2, B6, and niacin. The microscopic algae such as Diatoms are also used in forensic medicine.
An alga is also employed in the production of dietary supplements. Seaweed is an important animal food supplement. Many algae species are farmed through aquaculture in countries like Japan, China, and Korea, for seaweed production. One of the most valuable aquaculture crops is nori, which is used to wrap sushi. Dulce, a red alga, is distributed largely in Ireland and Atlantic Canada and is eaten raw, boiled, or fried like spinach.
ii) Algae Use in Fertilizer
Because algae are a rich source of nutrients and organic materials, they have traditionally been used as fertilizers for crops. Algae can be sprayed on crops or directly dumped on the field to decompose.
On the contrary, algae can produce vegetable oil and algal oil is used as an omega3 fatty acid like fish oil. Organic fertilisers from algae are considered a potential alternative to mainstream synthetic fertilisers since they are rich in macronutrients, micronutrients, certain growth regulators, and other minerals that directly aid in crop plant growth and yield.
iii) Commercial and industrial applications
The many pigments Agar, carrageenan, and alginate found in various algae species provide a supply of natural pigments that can be utilised as alternatives to artificial chemical dyes and colouring agents, as well as for food colouring. Natural algal pigments are also much better for paper recycling than manufactured chemical inks since they are easier to break down. Carrageenan is an alga that is commonly used as a food stabiliser to avoid mixture separation. Carrageenan is used as a thickener in a variety of foods, including ice cream, toothpaste, and cosmetics.
Red algae are used to make agar, mostly used in canned meat and fish as a preservative and food gelling agent. Carrageenan is found in toothpaste as it has a gel structure and is beneficial for the oral cavity, ice creams, pet food, and lotions, among other things. It's also used as a stabiliser in dairy products. Agar is also used in labs to culture bacteria as well as other lab methods like gel electrophoresis.
Diatomaceous earth is a white powdered substance produced of fossilised diatoms, a single-celled alga that contains silica. Diatomaceous earth is employed as an insecticide because of its high absorbency of liquids and fats. The powder absorbs the waxy lipids on the surface of the insect's exoskeleton, causing dehydration. Cat litter, filtering assist (because of the small particle size), and thermal insulator (due to its excellent heat resistance) are other applications.
Algae biofuels also have a lot of potential as carbon-neutral fuels. Many microalgae species have significant lipid content, which may easily be harvested and turned into biodiesel. They can also handle high levels of fermentable sugars, making them excellent for bioethanol production. Furthermore, unlike other biofuel sources such as maize, algae may be farmed without competing with arable land for food production.
In contrast, other biofuel sources such as maize require greater deforestation to make room for crop growth. Algae can be produced on the non-arable ground as long as it has access to water and in laboratories in large tanks. As a result, algae have a significant advantage over plant-based biofuels. Current research focuses on changing growth conditions and genetic manipulation to increase biofuel yield. Algal biofuels have a bright future ahead of them.
Algae naturally create polymers like starch and polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs), which offer a lot of potential for bioplastic manufacturing. To make a plastic film, PHAs have thermoplastic characteristics that don't need to be changed.
The particular structure of the PHA, its purity, molecular weight, and the volume of PHAs removed will all influence its properties. On the other hand, starch is not a polymer with plastic qualities, but it can be changed with additives to make it thermoplastic or used as filler in other plastics. Algae have a low lignin concentration and a high percentage of carbohydrates, making them a good source for bioplastic synthesis. Algae are also totally biodegradable, making them a greener alternative to oil-based plastics, which are wreaking havoc on the environment.
Many biodegradable polymers have already been created using algae, such as Ari Jónsson's biodegradable water bottles, which were created by mixing agar powder and water, rapidly freezing it, and then pressing it into an ice-cold mold. When the bottle is full of water, it retains its shape, but when it is empty, it begins to deteriorate. The liquids in the bottle are completely safe to drink, and the bottle itself is completely safe to use.
vi) Pollution prevention
Algae can also be used to remediate wastewater since they metabolise and break down waste substances, decreasing the requirement for hazardous chemicals. Some algae can also be utilised to trap fertiliser runoffs, minimising eutrophication by reducing the amount of fertiliser entering aquatic systems. Algae is also utilised in some power plants to reduce CO2 emissions because it is caught and used for photosynthesis by the algae.
Algal biotechnology is a relatively new topic of study that is predicted to expand in the coming years as a result of algae's enormous potential for developing sustainable, environmentally friendly alternatives to meet society's demands while also preserving the environment. Algal bioplastics and fuels have high current manufacturing costs, but prices are predicted to fall with biotechnological developments, making them a more realistic option.
Algae are plant-like protists. However, they are neither plants nor animals. Because of their photosynthetic ability, they share many properties with plants. Algae have a wide range of applications in various industries due to their rapid growth, high nutrient content, and low growth requirements.