SolarBioproducts Ruhr



Research field algae

Algae can be found in sunscreen and in pharmaceuticals, but what is the purpose of algae in these products? And why can algae reduce greenhouse gases (e.g. of airplanes)?

Algae are mostly associated with the beach and the sea, but also with food, such as Nori for Sushi. So far, only about 40,000 species of the estimated 400,000 species of algae are known. They are distinguished between microalgae and macroalgae. While microalgae are invisible to the naked eye, macroalgae can grow up to 100 meters. Many algae are rich in vitamins and thus of interest for the food or dietary supplement industry. Microalgae also contain fatty acids, e.g. Omega-3 and colouring agents such as carotenoids, which are mainly used in the cosmetics and food industry. But algae have even more skills.

Scientists at several international research centers have been investigating algae for useful applications for decades. Brown algae can be used for hypothyroidism because of the high iodine content. Also, the blue-green algae Spirulina is very interesting for medical researchers, because a substance, which can protect against lip herpes, has been detected in the algae. In addition, in early clinical studies, microalgae are being tested as vaccine producers, e.g. against malaria. Biocatalysts from blue algae are already being used to protect against sunburn. Thanks to the algae enzyme photolyase, the skin is not damaged by UV rays.

The automotive industry is interested in a different application of algae: the production of hydrogen. Already in 1939, it was discovered that some microalgae can produce hydrogen. As algae filter the greenhouse gas carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere for their growth, their cultivation also has a positive effect on the environment. In addition, the combustion of hydrogen produces no CO2, but only water. Thus, algae hydrogen is a clean energy source and therefore interesting as biofuel. The aerospace industry has a similar target. In this industry, the possibility of using algae biomass to produce environmentally friendly kerosene is being investigated. The joint project Aufwind has already carried out its first test flights with algae kerosene.

Algae biotechnology is also a research field for scientists in the Ruhr area. Fundamental questions on the biochemistry, genetics and biotechnology of photosynthetic microorganisms are part of the Photobiotechnology group of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum (RUB) under the leadership of Prof. Happe. The team is investigating the interaction of different metabolic pathways of microalgae and can offer a broad range of methods for the development of new and innovative research fields.

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