Don’t let their size fool you

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[mk_dropcaps style=”simple-style”]R[/mk_dropcaps]EDUCING CARBON EMISSIONS is a central theme in modern energy policy. But our energy production and consumption processes, a major source of greenhouse gases, are too complex and too integrated into our social and economic health to simply be replaced. Thus, the challenge is to decrease the overall footprint, and not just for the energy sector, but all industry.

[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][vc_column width=”2/3″][mk_image src=”” image_width=”800″ image_height=”475″ crop=”true” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”outside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ title=”Abigail Adebusuyi and her colleagues at Pollutants-to-Products are experimenting with the potential of microalgae to sequester carbon in photo-bioreactors units.” desc=”BEAUCHAMP PHOTOGRAPHY”][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]New technologies are being pioneered to help deal with the issues. Some are familiar, such as innovations in emissions-scrubbing technologies and carbon capture and storage. Others have a more exotic flavour. For example, Klaus Lackner, director of Columbia University’s Lensfest Centre for Sustainable Energy, has designed an “artificial tree” that removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and stores it, just as a super-efficient leaf or tree would.

Another intriguing concept is currently under development at Pollutants-to-Products (P2P), an applied research initiative led by the Centre for Research and Innovation at the Grande Prairie Regional College and primarily funded by the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council. Here, Abigail Adebusuyi, who has a PhD in microbiology and biotechnology, and her colleagues are exploring the potential of microalgae to sequester carbon.[/vc_column_text][mk_padding_divider size=”25″][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/2″][mk_image src=”” image_width=”800″ image_height=”350″ crop=”false” lightbox=”false” frame_style=”simple” target=”_self” caption_location=”inside-image” align=”left” margin_bottom=”10″ desc=”COURTESY GPRC-CRI”][/vc_column][vc_column width=”1/2″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]If you were to visit the lab, you’d find Adebusuyi and her teammates gathered around glowing green tubes that look like the beams of light sabres. But this isn’t the stuff of science fiction. The tubes are actually photo-bioreactors, brimming with carbon-sequestering microalgae. Adebusuyi says these unicellular organisms are capable of fixing up to 100 times more carbon dioxide than the average plant — a process made all the more efficient by the ability of the bioreactors to maximize the use of both sunlight and artificial light.

The idea is that emissions generated by big industry can be neutralized in the bioreactors rather than emitted into the atmosphere. Better yet, the microalgae use the carbon dioxide, light energy and other nutrients to create biomass for other products, such as biofuel, pharmaceuticals and even fish feed.

Adebusuyi, who completed her first degree in Nigeria and went on to graduate studies in the U.K. and at the University of Alberta, is one of two lead researchers on this project. She works closely with principal investigator Weixing Tan, the innovator behind the original design for the reactors, and is now involved in the design process. She says the work is exciting, but not without challenges.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]“One of the limitations to getting microalgae into a commercial field is the cost. If the cost of running the program is higher than what you get at the end, then it doesn’t work,” she says. Adebusuyi, however, is a committed problem-solver and is confident the technology will continue to become more affordable over time. “In 10 years, I see the bioreactor [used] in different industrial locations across the province.”

In addition to the photo-bioreactor project, Adebusuyi is working on using microalgae to sequester carbon at different scales. She’s also helping with fieldwork on other projects to improve wetland reclamation, and wastewater treatment. “When you see things going wrong all around you, you try to think about ways that things can be done better,” she says.[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row][vc_row][vc_column width=”1/1″][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][vc_column_text disable_pattern=”true” align=”left” margin_bottom=”0″]By Dawn Calleja and Niki Wilson[/vc_column_text][mk_padding_divider size=”40″][mk_button dimension=”three” size=”large” outline_skin=”dark” outline_active_color=”#fff” outline_hover_color=”#333333″ bg_color=”#13bdd2″ text_color=”light” url=”/resources/energy-exchange-magazine/issue-4/” target=”_self” align=”left” fullwidth=”true” margin_top=”0″ margin_bottom=”15″ animation=”scale-up”]READ MORE STORIES FROM THE SUMMER 2015 ISSUE OF ENERGY EXCHANGE MAGAZINE[/mk_button][/vc_column][/vc_row]