Algae: The World’s Smallest Hero

For many of us, the word “algae” conjures images of slime on the side of a fish tank or a layer of scum on top of a pond. You may even think that algae does nothing more than clutter the beach and turn previously clear water a murky green color. 

However, a quick trip down memory lane, all the way back to high school science class, may remind you that algae is an important part of many marine and freshwater ecosystems, and when it comes to taking care of this beautiful planet, they may just be the hero we’ve been looking for. 

What Is Algae? 

The word “algae” is used as an umbrella term for a variety of different aquatic organisms that produce oxygen as a byproduct of photosynthesis. As you may recall from that high school science class you were just thinking about, photosynthesis is the process by which plants use sunlight to make their own food. One of the main ways algae are differentiated from plants is that they lack stems, leaves, and roots. They also do not have a vascular system to transport water and nutrients throughout their bodies like flowers, trees, and other plants do. 

Algae comes in all shapes and sizes. Some types, known as macroalgae, are large and multicellular – kelp and seaweed are both considered macroalgae. Alternatively, many types of algae are considered to be microalgae, meaning they are unicellular.

Even the smallest types of algae are mightier than they appear. As a whole, it is estimated that algae produce roughly 70% of the oxygen in our atmosphere, and they are an essential part of maintaining all life here on Earth. While that itself is remarkable, it’s only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to the potential algae has to help secure the future of this planet.

Algae as an Air Purifier

As part of the process of photosynthesis, algae captures CO2 from the atmosphere and uses it to create more algae. This is part of what gives these organisms the ability to grow at impressive rates–usually between 10 and 100 times faster than land plants. Because of its ability to grow faster and cover more surface area, algae actually consumes more carbon dioxide than trees.

While that by itself is impressive, combining algae with modern technology like bioreactors further improves its efficiency. In fact, some algae-based bioreactors have been found to absorb CO2 400x more efficiently than trees. These types of algae-fueled technologies can do wonders for our efforts to protect the environment. Think about it this way: while we are all continuing to learn what we can do to reduce our carbon emissions, this algae-based technology is working to reduce the amount of carbon that is already in our atmosphere. 

Algae as Fuel 

In the 1970s, the United States faced an energy crisis that prompted the US Government to explore natural alternatives to fossil fuels. The most promising of these alternatives was algae-based fuel; however, they were unable to make the price competitive with traditional fossil fuels, so in the 1990s they abandoned the project. 

Fast forward to 2005 when oil prices once again began to rise dramatically. This reignited interest for both scientists and entrepreneurs in creating algae biofuels. Research and development have come a long way since then. In fact, in 2011, the United States Navy tested the use of algae fuel in some of their planes and ships with promising results. 

There is still a lot of progress to be made on this front, particularly when it comes to making this biofuel cost-effective, which means that we likely won’t be fueling our cars or trucks with algae any time soon. However, the continued progress in this area sparks hope that ships, airliners, and cargo jets, which all are notorious for their carbon emissions, may be able to start using algae as a way to significantly lower their overall carbon emissions. 

Algae as Materials 

Plastic packaging is filling up our landfills and polluting our oceans. Generally, plastics are created by turning natural gas, which is a fossil carbon source, into long chains of carbon-based molecules. This creation process also involves a number of additives, several of which are hazardous for both the environment and human health. Combine that with the fact that plastics never break down completely, and it spells trouble for our environment. 

Bioplastics like those made from cornstarch or straw are engineered to be biodegradable or compostable, making them the more eco-friendly option. However, the plants used to make these plastics still need healthy soil and water in order to grow, both of which are needed for other processes, like growing food. 

What’s the solution? Enter plastics made from algae! In 2010 two American engineers recognized that algae had the potential to be turned into sustainable materials like plastic. They developed a process to create not only an algae-based plastic but also an algae-based foam that can be used in the creation of shoes and surfboards. 

More recently, two Dutch designers discovered a way to use algae in 3D printing as a replacement for plastic. This 3D printing material can be used to create nearly anything, including shampoo bottles, trash cans, and even tableware. While this process is still in its early stages, it’s feasible that it can be scaled up to an industrial level and used as a way to make manufacturing processes more environmentally friendly. 

Algae as Food

As the world population continues to grow, food production has to ramp up to keep up with it. In fact, the United Nations has estimated that worldwide food production will need to increase nearly 70% by 2050 to keep up. However, growing or raising that much food requires land and other valuable resources that are already at a premium. 

Thankfully, this is another area where algae can come to the rescue. Edible types of algae have impressive nutritional profiles. They tend to be loaded with protein, important amino acids, essential fatty acids, vitamins, and minerals, which are all important for maintaining your overall health. Algae can even be used as a more sustainable means to feed livestock and farmed fish.  

Furthermore, their ability to grow quickly and sustainably gives them a huge advantage. Different types of algae can be found naturally in both fresh water and saltwater, and while some types of algae can be farmed by humans, there are other types, like Aphanizomenon flos aquae (AFA), that grow abundantly in the wild without any human intervention. 

While we may not be regularly serving algae on our dinner plates any time soon, we are already seeing these nutrient-packed organisms being put to use in things like supplements, so it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing it make an appearance in other food items. 

Embrace the Benefits of Algae

From extracting carbon from the atmosphere to being a nutrient-packed food source, there are so many ways that algae can be used to protect the future of this world. Embracing the algae that Mother Nature has given us is another way we can help make a positive impact on this planet, which is why we consider it part of living the #NewEarthLife. 

So go ahead, start embracing the benefits of algae in your daily life by supporting local and federal algae research programs, purchasing products made from algae, and turning to algae as a source of nutrients by adding a nutritional supplement to your daily routine. 

At New Earth we are on a mission to positively impact the health of every body and soul we come in contact with. We specialize in producing third-party certified, organic whole food supplements including a variety of probiotics, and digestive support. Our supplements feature a rare, yet highly nutritious superfood, Aphanizomenon flos-aquae (AFA). Also known as organic Wild Microalgae®, AFA is a unique type of microalgae that is available in many forms including tablets, capsules, and powders all designed to help you on your journey to holistic wellness. The best part? We offer a 90-day money-back risk-free guarantee on all of our products. Visit our website to learn more.