Our understanding of algae, their unique and rich diversity, is shifting more and more towards finding industrial applications for production of useful products, in particular, food (human food, fish food and animal food), energy and farmaceutical products. There are known methods and tools to extract oil and other valuable products from algae, also to change the genetic content and chemical composition of many algae.
Many and many organizations give lots of money for research for commercialization of algae. Research takes is typical path fuelled by society needs, human hopes for prosperity and fears from environmental threats. In this amazing journey of what we are right now and where we are heading to, there are several important facts to be known, e.g. benefits and threats. There are, also, key interests in understanding the potential of artificial photosynthesis as a new path, not yet fully understood, for production of energy.
Algae are “biochemical reactors” that can recycle carbon to produce organic compounds in different forms, which indeed is the origin of all the gas and oil reservoirs around the world. Multi-hundred-million dollar industries have invested in many products, e.g. sushi wrap, oils, dental impression, ice cream thickener, cosmetics, medical products, plastics… etc. They still invest more and more money for production of energy-rich food, biofuel from algae and use of wastewater to grow algae as well as for the extraction of other useful products like coloring agents and anti-oxidant, agro-culture business for production of food in the fish and shellfish industries.
Basic research is needed, and even imperative, to solve central bottleneck in algae processing technology ranging from cultivation, harvesting, extraction of desired products, processing and refining. Micro-algae are known to grow very fast and there is commercial potential in industrial microbiology where molecular biology in combination with aquaculture and marine farming can yield hybrid and novel technologies. Unlike industrial small-scale microbial technologies, e.g. cheese, beer, alcohol that are based on “closed systems” trying to cultivate algae on large-scale, i.e. in open systems, is a great challenge. Algae are now looked upon as the most sustainable known potential source of biofuel. The challenges are transferring the many different types of small-scale bioreactors to open systems for growing algae at large scale. Up-scaling of algae-based technology leads to emergent issues that are not fully controlled, e.g. competitor algae, predators and diseases (bacteria and viruses). Up-scaling to large-scale open systems, therefore, requires solving a wide-range of difficulties and threats including those arising from varying weather conditions, e.g temperature, and much work is still needed.