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Cal State to explore use of marine algae to ‘soak up’ carbon dioxide

SAN MARCOS, CA, Dec. 11, 2001 — One possibility for reducing the buildup of gases in the atmosphere that can cause global warming may be to create algae ponds that can soak up the carbon dioxide released from power plants.

To explore this concept, the Department of Energy will add a project proposed by California State University, San Marcos, CA, to its carbon sequestration research program. The department will provide slightly more than $200,000 for the 1-year exploratory effort, while the university will contribute nearly $100,000.

Cal State researchers will investigate the use of coccolithophorids – single-celled, marine algae – that can absorb carbon dioxide and convert it to calcium carbonate, a solid rock-like material that most people know better as limestone. In fact, coccolithophorids that exist naturally in the world’s oceans are the major global producers of calcium carbonate.

The university researchers will explore whether these marine algae can be cultivated in artificial ponds, outside their natural ecosystem. Scientists also want to learn whether the calcium carbonate the algae produce can be “harvested” as a commercial product.

The major goals will be to identify the growth conditions that maximize the amount of carbon dioxide that can be sequestered by the algae and to evaluate the costs and benefits of using algae cultivation ponds as a power plant carbon dioxide control method.

The Energy Department’s involvement in the project will be coordinated through its National Energy Technology Laboratory in Pittsburgh, PA, and Morgantown, WV.