Growing algae fights climate change and provides food, fertilizer and fuel

A seaweed farmer in Lembongan Bay, Indonesia. Photo credit: Jonas Gratzer / LightRocket via Getty Images

Algae, a term for the diverse group of large non-flowering marine organisms called algae, have a wide range of uses, from food and fertilizers to fuel. It also absorbs carbon and is a potentially powerful tool in the fight against climate change. Algae are simple to grow, require only sea water and sunlight, and are starting to be cultivated more and more around the world.

In California, scientists at UCSD’s Scripps Institution of Oceanography have developed algae that helps reduce the methane produced by cows. “Basically, you’re just pumping seawater from the open sea through filters. You have your reservoir system and you just need the sunlight and seawater to grow the algae, ”said project leader Dr. Jennifer Smith, as reported by ABC 10News San Diego. .

According to Smith, methane is a greenhouse gas 30 times more powerful than CO2. When cows eat the red algae developed by Smith and the other scientists on the team, studies have shown a reduction in the amount of methane emitted by belching cows. Their digestive process is made more efficient by the algae and therefore less of what they eat is turned into waste and its by-product, methane. After three years of research, Smith and the other scientists are hoping their seaweed supplement can be used on California farms early this year. The team expects cow emissions to be reduced by more than 50 percent.

“If you could take it out of the mix, you would have an immediate effect on the rate of climate change. About 25% of global warming today is due to methane, ”said Scott Peters, Congressman from San Diego and co-author of a bill to tackle methane emissions, ABC 10News San reported. Diego.

But for some California companies trying to grow algae in the state, the licensing process is so long and expensive that it turns out to be a hurdle for those who want to join the blue economy. Setting up a seaweed farm in California can take years and cost thousands of dollars.

“I just don’t understand why it is so difficult when it is something that is so important and could be so good for the environment.,Said Daniel Marquez of the PharmerSea seaweed farm, reported the San Francisco Chronicle. Marquez waited six years to get clearance from the state of California for his underwater kelp farm near Santa Barbara. He and his wife use kelp in research and in their cosmetics business.

Algae growers in California are frustrated with the licensing process as seaweed farms in other states like Alaska, Maine, and Hawaii thrive. With the exception of a few local port or harbor areas, no new commercial aquaculture leases have been issued in California for more than 25 years. Last year, California’s first commercial open-water seaweed farm opened in Humboldt Bay, where the local port district has the authority to grant its own permits.

“[The California Coastal Commission treats] licensing a new shellfish farm as a nuclear power plant, ”said John Finger, CEO of Hog Island Oyster Co., reported the San Francisco Chronicle. The company has stopped trying to grow algae due to permit barriers. As 6Park News reports, “Oyster and clam farmers are interested in growing seaweed because it absorbs carbon and reduces ocean acidification which damages shellfish.”

According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, from 2006 to 2015, cultivated algae doubled worldwide. Recently, the US Department of Energy invested $ 55 million in research into growing algae for use in making bioplastics and biofuels.

“Yet the most effective way to sequester carbon is not to release it in the first place,” wrote Heather Smith of Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine. “For example, scientists recently calculated that bottom trawling … releases as much carbon into the atmosphere as the aviation industry as a whole, or about one billion metric tonnes per year.”

Cristen Hemingway Jaynes is a writer of fiction and non-fiction. She holds a JD and Certificate in Ocean and Coastal Law from the University of Oregon Law School and an MA in Creative Writing from Birkbeck, University of London.

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