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The most effective ways to reduce CO2 emissions are to improve the energy efficiency of each economic sector and to reduce the cutting of tropical and temperate forests around the world. These options, however, may not fully reach their technical and economic potential due to various political and socioeconomic. The most practical of these is to increase CO2 sinks through photosynthesis in both standing tree biomass and in ocean primary producers. The use of marine algae as CO2 sinks is for large-scale CO2 mitigation: the use of phytoplankton through Fe fertilization and macro algal (kelp) farms, which can be used for energy production. The reduction of CO2-emissions that are damaging our climate is one of the major challenges of contemporary energy management. Nature itself offers us possibilities to produce energy CO2-neutral with the help of hydrogen producing micro-algae. Under certain conditions the light energy collected by photosynthesis is used to transfer electrons to hydrogen producing proteins called hydrogenases. A new type of hydrogenase that produces molecular hydrogen at relatively high rates was isolated (Happe and Naber, 1993) and characterized at the genomic level (Happe and Kaminski, 2002) for the first time in green algae. Processes were recently developed that allow long-term production of hydrogen by micro-algae (Melis et al., 2000). Under sulphur deprivation the green alga Chlamydomonas Reinhardtii adapts its metabolism from oxygen production and CO2-fixation towards hydrogen production. Therefore the biotechnological process is divided into the growth phase, the hydrogen production phase, and the resulting spent algae can be used for biomass production of fuel. Thus by control of growth conditions green algae can be used to produced hydrogen fuel, methane and a whole host of hydro carbons for fuel. Our planet is 75% ocean; it seems only natural to look to the ocean as a source of energy and a source to help lower our atmospheric CO2. The most appropriate regions for this kind of production would not only be the continental shelf regions but also in the open ocean where iron fertilization is being utilized to help with algal blooms. Algae and kelp may not be the holy grail of green energy sources, but they are a viable resource to help in our energy and environmental crisis.


Natural Sciences and Mathematics

Faculty Advisor

Ken Frost, Ph.D.

Publication Date

Spring 2009


University of Wisconsin, LaCrosse


biofuels, alternative energy, Environment and Sustainability


Biotechnology | Chemistry | Environmental Chemistry | Natural Resource Economics | Oil, Gas, and Energy | Sustainability

Potential Role of Micro-Algae on Global Energy Supply