A Finnish startup is developing a circular system that uses algae to both clean up industrial waste and produce useful materials
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Spotted: Algae has a large number of uses, from bio-fuel to food and fertiliser. Now, startup Algonomi has found a way to produce algae in a circular process that also integrates water purification and carbon storage. The process takes carbon dioxide from industrial processes and uses that to grow microalgae in a bioreactor. After collecting the biomass, materials such as fatty acids, vitamins, proteins, antioxidants, and carbohydrates are extracted for use in industrial processes and food production.
While most industrial plants that produce waste water are required to clean it in some way, these processes do not usually recover nutrients in the effluent for further use – Algonomi considers this a wasted opportunity. Industrial effluents contain organic and inorganic compounds which can be used as a growth medium in algae cultivation. The algae not only cleans the wastewater, but can then be used to produce other ingredients. “Microalgae metabolism produces many valuable components, such as long-chain omega-3 fatty acids and other bioactive lipids, pigments and vitamins that have great financial value,” says Marika Tossavainen, a founding member of the company.
Compounds extracted from algae can be used in food, nutritional supplements, animal feed, and cosmetics. A starch grain produced by some microalga can also be used to replace some microplastics. And Algonomi claims research has shown that the addition of certain microalgae can increase cows’ feed digestibility by 15 per cent while reducing methane emissions by 10 per cent.
The company, which was begun by researchers from the University of Helsinki, explains its focus as threefold: “We are a production organisation, producing a variety of bioactive ingredients by cultivating microalgae biomass. At the same time, we also reduce CO2 from the atmosphere, by taking CO2 from a client’s industrial process that would otherwise go up to the skies, and use it for our cultivation process. Finally, we are also a sales organisation, i.e. we sell our output of algae biomass and its various bioactive extracts to our B2B customers in different industries, e.g. cosmetics, garment and the food industry.”
There has been an explosion of interest in uses for algae recently, with a number of innovators developing ways to use this sustainable resource. These include edible food packaging made from farmed seaweed, algae-based lipstick and a T-shirt that incorporates black algae.
Written By: Lisa Magloff