Micro algae, responsible for the green colour of pond and lake water, can also be a trusted facilitator of ‘greener’ life over land, according to a US-based expert.

Micro algae products are a naturally available solution to energy, food and economic problems being faced by the world as also the impact from climate challenges.

Potential in India

“Marine algae have the power to simultaneously fuel vehicles, recycle carbon dioxide, and provide nutrition to animals and humans,” says Ira A Levine, a tenured Professor of Natural and Applied Sciences at the University of Southern Maine in the US and a Fulbright Distinguished Chair.

They can also create jobs for thousands of people, Levine said, while delivering a special address in a joint programme organised by the Departments of Aquatic Biology & Fisheries, Zoology, Biotechnology and Integrative Biology of the University of Kerala here on Wednesday.

“With its wealth of diverse freshwater and marine algae, including seaweeds, India can play a major role in algal farming and can become a world leader in this sector,” Levine says.

The scope of investing in algal research, especially on biofuel, is promising, because algae can produce between 7,500 and 19,000 litres of fuel per acre, far more than any other renewable feedstock.

Specific advantages

They can grow on marginal or non-crop land, so they don’t compete with valuable agricultural land. They can be grown on brackish or polluted water and so don’t require freshwater resources either.

Micro algae consume carbon dioxide (CO2) and emit oxygen as they grow and thus help reduce the total amount of CO2 in the atmosphere.

Future of algae

A series of pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products, besides chemicals, are now being developed from algae.

India is a growingmarket for micro algae such as Spirulina, which is now given as a pharmaceutical product.

There is scope for both small-scale (as cottage industries) and large-scale algal farming here.

The US-based Algal Foundation aims to promote the power of algae to transform human society and facilitate a future in which algae are a fundamental source of energy, nutrition products and ecological services for sustainable societies globally.

Collaborative future

The Foundation engages in and funds educational outreach, research, development, and other activities; grooming of future leaders through scholarships, grants and other financial and organisational support; facilitates communication among private, academic and public sector leaders and the public to increase broader literacy and awareness of the benefits of algae biomass cultivation and commercialisation.

This, according to Levine, also opens up the scope for future collaboration with Indian universities to train a group of students who can become leaders on algal cultivation and research.

He has already visited Meghalaya, Delhi, and Punjab in connection with the algal education programme, besides seeking to expand collaborative research and education.

A Biju Kumar, Head, Department of Aquatic Biology & Fisheries, University of Kerala, said the varsity is looking at ways to cooperate with the University of Southern Maine and Algae Foundation