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Carbon-Absorbing Algae Boost Australia's Fight Against Climate Change

  • Phil Mercer

Australia is preparing to introduce technology that allows algae to capture half or more of the greenhouse gases emitted by a power station. The micro-algae thrive on carbon dioxide, producing food for livestock as well as biofuels and material for plastics.

Researchers think that humble algae, which are simple, rootless plants that normally provide food for aquatic animals, could lead be a revolutionary tool in the battle against climate change.

The idea is to pump emissions from power stations into photo-bioreactors, which are large tubes filled with algae.

When carbon dioxide from the power stations is mixed with water, the algae soak up much of it, using it as a nutrient.

Once the algae are removed from the tubes, scientists say they can be buried in the seabed, where they could store indefinitely the carbon they have ingested.

The algae can also be processed and used to create biodiesel fuel and fertilizer, as well as food for farm animals.

Kirsten Heimann at Queensland's James Cook University developed the technology.

"They take up carbon dioxide from the air or if you feed them carbon dioxide they take that and with the aid of sunlight they are converting that into sugars, proteins and oils," explains Heimann.

Three of Australia's biggest coal-fired power stations are building algae farms to help them reduce pollution in a country where 80 percent of electricity is generated by burning coal. Burning fuels such as coal and oil pump vast amounts of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere.

Australia is one of the world's worst per capita emitters of greenhouses gases, which many scientists believe contribute to global warming.

As well as Australia, the pioneering algae technology is also being tested in the United States and Germany.

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