Eutrophication happens when a water body becomes enriched with nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus. Chemicals from agriculture and untreated wastewater are the main culprits and have accelerated its rate and extent. The result is the progressive growth of macroalgae and cyanobacteria, which choke water bodies, cut off the oxygen supply to fish, and block light from reaching aquatic plants, depleting biodiversity. These nutrients also harm bathers, who can pick up cyanobacteria-producing cyanotoxins and come down with illnesses like diarrhoea, skin rashes, neurological disorders and even cancer.
The team behind AlgaeService for LIFE has set out to turn these algae into valuable products like biogas, fertilisers, pigment phycocyanin and cosmetics.
Coming to market soon
They have tested two prototype algae and cyanobacteria harvesting boats on eutrophic blooming rivers and lakes of different types and sizes in both countries.
‘All the water bodies are in the catchments of rivers flowing into the Baltic Sea. Collecting the algae will therefore result in cleaner inland water bodies and a healthier sea,’ says AlgaeService for LIFE project coordinator Judita Koreivienė.
One of the prototypes that collects cyanobacteria and macroalgae in small water bodies is due to be commercialised. The boat is environmentally friendly, with electric engines, batteries and solar panels and has attracted interest from many potential customers. A larger prototype that collects cyanobacteria from scums began operating in 2022 and collected more than seven tonnes of dense wet biomass.
Unmanned planes and drones, meanwhile, help the team monitor algae blooms in small water bodies.
This means they can find the exact location of the bloom and evaluate the amount of algal biomass there.
Also, satellite imagery helps them locate and determine the timing of cyanobacteria scums in the Kaunas Reservoir and the Curonian Lagoon.
Beyond finding and removing algae, the team has investigated what they can do with this biomass.
For example, they have shown that the algae stimulated the growth of barley, oats and potatoes in fields, increased their yield and revealed the potential of algal biomass as a natural fertiliser.
The team is also testing how the biomass could produce biogas.
And they have shown that valuable chemical compounds extracted from the biomass can be applied in several industries.
Algae in your moisturiser?
For example, the team showed in the laboratory that cyanobacteria biomass could be used to extract the natural dye phycocyanin. Phycocyanin has antioxidant, antibacterial and other bioactive properties. It can help make animal feed and medical diagnostics products.
Various compounds with moisturising and elasticising properties for the skin have already been extracted from macroalgal biomass.
These compounds could see algae being utilised to produce emulsions, moisturising, anti-ageing creams, and other cosmetics.
‘We are using innovative technologies to collect algal biomass cost-effectively and to use it sustainably as a renewable natural resource for developing valuable products. In this way, excellence in environmental services and circular economy principles are in harmony,’ adds Judita Koreivienė.
Creating awareness of algae
Another objective of the project is to increase public awareness of eutrophication, algal blooming and the sustainable use of this biomass.
To this end, the team has developed a mobile application with an interactive map of blooming water bodies. Interested parties can download the app and provide input on algae blooms in their area.
A survey on water blooms was created for locals to complete.
Various information seminars have also been held.
This circular economy project supports the goals of the EU’s Water Framework Directive and Marine Strategy Framework Directive. It also aligns with the EU’s Biodiversity Strategy for 2030.
And it contributes to the EU’s Nitrates, Bathing Water and Drinking Water Directives.
AlgaeService for LIFE is yet another example of a LIFE close-to-market project.
Project video: Algae blooms – threat vs resource
- Publication date
- 20 January 2023
- European Climate, Infrastructure and Environment Executive Agency