Harnessing the power of plankton: a revolutionary approach to industry

As we already know, plankton make up the base of the marine food chain and have vital roles in supporting marine ecosystems. In addition to these very important roles, recent scientific discoveries have revealed that plankton can also be of use for industrial applications, revolutionizing various industries and opening up new possibilities for sustainable and eco-friendly solutions. Here, I walk you through some of these uses and I will try to expose their pros and cons. 

The use of plankton in biotechnology and other biology-related industries 

One of the most promising areas where plankton are being utilized is in the field of biotechnology. Plankton are rich sources of unique and diverse bioactive compounds, including enzymes, lipids, and secondary metabolites, that have immense potential. For example, enzymes derived from plankton can be used in pharmaceutical products and food additives. Lipids extracted from plankton can be used in cosmetics, nutritional supplements (e.g., omega-3 fatty acids), and aquaculture feed. Plankton-derived secondary metabolites, such as many toxins, have shown to be promising treatments for Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, diabetes, AIDS, schizophrenia, inflammation, allergy, osteoporosis, asthma, pain, etc. 

Furthermore, plankton have shown great potential in sustainable aquaculture practices, as natural and nutritious food source for fish larvae and shrimp, reducing the dependence on wild-caught fish for fishmeal and minimizing the environmental impact of aquaculture. 

Plankton are also used in the production of biofertilizers, which can enhance crop growth and productivity without the need for synthetic chemicals, and in wastewater treatment, as they have the ability to remove pollutants and excess of nutrients from water bodies, helping to mitigate water pollution and eutrophication.

The power of plankton as biofuel

Biofuels, renewable energy sources derived from biological materials, have emerged as a promising solution to reduce reliance on fossil fuels and mitigate climate change. While traditional biofuels are typically derived from crops such as corn and sugarcane, recent advancements have highlighted the potential of plankton as a sustainable and efficient source of biofuel. Phytoplankton offer unique advantages as a biofuel source, with their rapid growth, high lipid content, and potential for sustainable cultivation. Lipids extracted from plankton can be processed to produce biodiesel, a renewable and environmentally-friendly alternative to traditional fossil fuels. Plankton can be grown in controlled environments, such as bioreactors or open ponds, using sunlight, carbon dioxide, and nutrients. Plankton can be cultivated using seawater, reducing the competition for freshwater resources, which is a major concern in traditional biofuel crop cultivation. Furthermore, plankton can be grown using non-arable land, making it a viable option for biofuel production without competing with food crops.

The use of plankton as biofuel offers several additional benefits. First and foremost, plankton biofuel is a renewable energy source that can reduce dependence on fossil fuels, which are finite and contribute to climate change. Plankton biofuel has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as the production and combustion of biofuels generally release less carbon dioxide compared to fossil fuels. Since plankton can be cultivated in local waters, plankton biofuel production can be decentralized, reducing the need for long-distance transportation of fuel and associated environmental impacts.

The potential of diatoms in construction

Diatoms, microscopic single-celled algae, are not only important contributors to marine ecosystems, but they also offer unique properties that make them a promising material for construction. Diatoms possess intricate silica cell walls, called frustules, with diverse shapes and patterns, which can be harvested and utilized for various applications in the construction industry. These frustules have high strength, durability, and thermal stability, making them ideal for various construction applications. Diatom frustules can be harvested from diatomaceous earth, a naturally occurring sedimentary rock composed of fossilized diatoms, or can be cultivated in controlled environments.

One of the main uses of diatoms in construction is as a sustainable and eco-friendly alternative to conventional construction materials. Diatom frustules can be processed into diatomite, a lightweight and porous material that can be used in the production of cement, concrete, and insulation materials. Diatomite-based construction materials offer several benefits, including improved insulation, reduced weight, and increased durability, compared to traditional materials. Furthermore, diatoms have the potential to improve indoor air quality in buildings. Diatomite-based materials have high porosity, which allows for increased air circulation and can help regulate humidity and absorb indoor air pollutants, contributing to a healthier indoor environment. However, I am not sure whether with the air they let the heat (or cold) escape from the buildings. The use of diatoms in construction also has the potential to reduce the environmental footprint of buildings. Diatom-based materials have a lower carbon footprint compared to traditional construction materials, as diatoms sequester carbon dioxide during their growth process. 

A tiny solution for feeding our growing population

I did not want to end this post without exploring the use of plankton in palliating one of the major problems human populations are facing, famine. As the global population continues to soar, with estimates reaching 9.7 billion by 2050, finding sustainable and scalable solutions to feed our communities becomes increasingly critical. While traditional agriculture, livestock and aquaculture have been the backbone of our food systems, plankton, is a tiny yet mighty solution that holds great promise. 

One of the main advantages of using plankton as a food source is its remarkable ability to reproduce rapidly. Additionally, autotrophic plankton requires minimal resources for growth, primarily sunlight and nutrients, making them an efficient and environmentally friendly option for food production. Plankton also pack a nutritional punch. They are rich in essential fatty acids, proteins, vitamins, and minerals, making them a nutrient-dense food source. 

Furthermore, plankton can be sustainably harvested using innovative techniques such as vertical farming, where plankton are grown in stacked trays in controlled environments. This allows for year-round production, irrespective of weather conditions, and minimizes the risk of overfishing or depleting natural plankton populations.

The potential of plankton as a food source is not limited to the present, but also offers promise for the future. As climate change continues to disrupt traditional agriculture and fisheries, plankton farming can serve as a resilient alternative. Additionally, with its high growth rate and nutrient density, plankton has the potential to address malnutrition and food insecurity, especially in vulnerable populations.

Caveats and challenges associated to the use of plankton in industry

Despite the potential benefits, there are challenges and considerations associated with the use of plankton in industry. One of the main challenges is the scalability of their cultivation. While plankton can grow rapidly, achieving large-scale cultivation and production of these organisms is still a technological and logistical challenge that requires further research and development. Another difficulty is the potential environmental impacts of plankton cultivation, such as nutrient pollution, genetic modification, and impacts on marine ecosystems. Careful management, legislation, and monitoring of plankton cultivation practices are necessary to ensure environmental sustainability and minimize potential negative impacts. Additionally, and perhaps most important, the economic viability and cost competitiveness of plankton production compared to traditional alternatives are still being evaluated. Further research, technological advancements, and supportive policies are needed to make plankton economically viable and commercially scalable for their many uses.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: