ExxonMobil may have shut down its algae-based fuel project, but no one else seems to be giving up on the idea of turning these stemless plants into industrial workhorses.
At the University of Colorado’s Living Materials Laboratory, researchers have enlisted a microalgae called a coccolithophore that grows in seawater and builds a carbonate shell around itself.
The lab’s researchers have devised a way to harvest the shells as a substitute for limestone in portland cement, the main ingredient in concrete.
“Rather than mining or quarrying limestone and burning off the CO2 that has been stored for millennia, why not grow the limestone in real time and make a carbon-neutral portland cement?” lab director Wil Srubar told Science magazine.
After water, concrete is the second most-used material on Earth, according to the National Science Foundation (NSF), and contributes 6 percent of the world’s carbon pollution each year, about 2.2 billion tons.
“Given that global demand for mineral aggregates for concrete materials exceeds 50 billion tons per year, a grand opportunity exists to leverage biological processes to produce carbon-storing minerals for use in cement paste, mortar, and concrete,” the NSF said in giving Srubar’s lab a research grant.
Unlike conventional portland cement, the lab’s algal version gives off virtually no carbon emissions and the process of creating it recycles 95 percent of the water it uses.
Srubar has co-founded Prometheus Materials to take his “living concrete” to market and to “transform construction into a zero-carbon industry.”
The Georgia Institute of Technology has an equally lofty goal: to create an algae-based biofuel plant that can be installed on Mars to power human explorations there.
Back on Planet Earth, the U.S. energy department’s Bioenergy Technologies Office has funded six projects using waste carbon gas from factory flues to feed strains of algae that then produce zero-carbon fuels and other products.
Algae also are a growing focus of the nutritional supplement and nutraceutical industries.
TRENDPOST: Many investors are still focused on electronics. However, the micro-world holds big promises for Ontrendpreneurs© and their backers in a future that uses, and wastes, fewer depletable resources, as we have detailed in “Self-Assembling Bacteria Can Make a Better Drug Factory” (8 Nov 2022) and “Synbio Set to Explode With Lucrative Innovations, Say Industry Watchers” (4 Oct 2022), among other articles.