January 10, 2021. By Kolemann Lutz
Photosynthetic algae are one of nature’s most powerful tools to absorb carbon from Earth’s atmosphere and to geoengineer new frontiers on celestial bodies.
A Texas-based AI and computer software firm, Hypergiant Industries designed and developed the Eos Bioreactor, a kitchen-fridge-size machine that can soak up as much carbon from the atmosphere as an acre of trees.
With dimensions 3 x 3 x 7 ft (90 x 90 x 210 cm), the reactor will be installed in urban environments to collect and sequester carbon, producing clean bio-fuels that could be used to reduce industrial carbon footprints.
Chlorella vulgaris is a single-celled species of green microalga known to absorb more CO2 than any other known plant or organism. The algae lives inside a tube system and water tank inside the compact bioreactor and is exposed to artificial light.
The team attributes the 400X carbon absorption efficacy to machine learning software that oversees the whole process, managing light, temperatures, and pH levels for maximum output. Hypergiant is on a mission to improve critical infrastructure, efficiently harness energy, further space travel and advance humanity’s position in the universe.
As chlorella has a photosynthetic efficiency of up to 8%, the global algae market is expected to grow from USD 3.20 Billion in 2017 to USD 5.38 Billion by 2025 at a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of 6.7%.
Photobioreactors have been considered for space applications since 2008, the German Aerospace Center (DLR) began conducting research on microalgae for space applications and developed the photobioreactor with Airbus in 2014. In May 2020, astronauts on the International Space Station began testing a smaller scale version of a chlorella vulgaris-powered bioreactor to assess its feasibility for future long-duration space missions.
In converting CO2 into oxygen and edible biomass, the Chlorella algae will recycle the crews remaining carbon dioxide to produce oxygen. The researchers believe approximately 30% of an astronaut's food can be replaced by algae with its high protein content, which would influence the interior design and architecture of space habitats.
Biomass feedstocks of algae on habitable regions in the inner Solar system could improve crop yield, produce biofuel, provide electricity, plastics, wastewater treatment and much more.
In 1961, Carl Sagan imagined seeding the atmosphere of Venus with blue green algae to be made more Earth-like. Algae-powered photobioreactors hold great potential for paraterraforming and adapting life to flourish on CO2-rich planets such as Mars and Venus.