Touted for its high protein count and other health benefits, Spirulina is typically used as a supplement. But researchers in Sweden have recently found a way to use the blue-green algae to remove contaminants from water and then make biofuels from what’s left after the process.
For the experiment, researchers at the Swiss Federal Laboratories for Material Science coated the algae spirals in semiconductor compounds, including nickel, zinc oxide, and zinc – a combination that was previously found to be good at absorbing light energy.
The scientists developed the process in a bid to help produce clean water by using the purification properties of plants, with a chemical reaction oxidizing and neutralizing pollutants in the water when exposed to light.
When the coated spirals have completed their water decontamination task, the zinc and nickel compounds can be recovered and used again, while the rest can be converted into bioethanol and biodiesel. The remains of the preserved Spirulina can also be processed into pellets and burned to produce energy and the ash used as fertilizer to cultivate new populations.
On top of that, the process is also inexpensive, since the algae are relatively cheap and easy to produce, needing only water, sunlight, and fertilizer to rapidly reproduce. Not to mention, the unicellular organisms snack on carbon dioxide while releasing oxygen into the atmosphere.
At the moment, the process has been successfully demonstrated in a lab setting only, but the researchers say that they are confident that larger-scale applications should be possible.