Algae to Become the Solution to Hunger (May 25, 2015)

Boğaziçi University’s Institute of Environmental Sciences is working on significant projects aimed at making use of algae as a source of food and alternative energy, and improving the quality of water. Leading such research is Associate Professor Berat Zeki Haznedaroğlu, a young scientist who has returned to Turkey within the framework of TUBİTAK’s “Returning Researchers Program” and is continuing his research at Boğaziçi University.

Associate Professor Berat Zeki Hanedaroğlu from Boğaziçi University’s Institute of Environmental Sciences is conducting his research under three headings: making use of algae as food, as an alternative energy source, and in the improvement of water quality. He is aiming to lead the way for similar studies internationally.

Dr. Haznedaroğlu has returned to Turkey within the framework of TUBİTAK’s “Returning Researchers Program”.  The program encourages Turkish scientists abroad to return to Turkey and provides support for their work in Turkey.  Dr. Haznedaroğlu is currently carrying on his work at Boğaziçi University.

Dr. Haznedaroğlu is currently working on use of algae for food, energy and improved water quality at the Environmental Sciences laboratories at the Hisar Campus of the University; he stated that algae synthesizes products suitable for human consumption and thus forms a major nutrient on its own.

Pointing to the fact that algae can produce vegetable based Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids, Dr. Berat Zeki Haznedaroğlu said, “We have studies on fatty acids being synthesized by algae at the optimal level.  Highly preferred fish oils are not actually oils produced by fish synthesizing fatty acids; they are the result of fish consuming too much algae. Unsaturated fatty acids are important in the development of infants and children, especially in the development of the brain, and for cardiovascular health in adults. Algae can also produce antioxidants. High fiber food substitutes with high pulp content are important. Algae contain all nutrition groups, namely fats, proteins and carbohydrates. Taking all these into consideration, we are conducting experimental studies on the format of algae based whole foods”.

Algae as Food Aid in Natural Disasters

Pointing to the fact that studies on algae are gaining in popularity around the world, Dr. Haznedaroğlu said that algae could be easily grown in a sterile environment in two weeks; he underlined the fact that algae can be used as a food supplement during times of natural disasters such as earthquakes, draught, etc.

“We are working on the idea of producing concentrated food supplements (bars) for children and adults, and for times of natural disasters.  At present, algae are not used abroad as a source of food on its own. We have started work to that purpose in our labs at the Hisar Campus and will start working on sea algae at the Sarıtepe Campus”.

Renewable Alternative Energy from Algae

Drawing attention to the fact that the capability of algae to synthesize fat at considerable levels can be transformed into biodiesel following certain chemical reactions, Dr. Haznedaroğlu said this could be used as an alternative energy source.  “Oil and other conventional fossil based energy sources in the world are limited and unsustainable, which makes it imperative for companies as well as countries to work on alternative energy sources,” Dr. Haznedaroğlu added, “Ethanol is blended with gasoline sold in USA at the rate of 10-15 %”.

“EPDK regulations (Energy Market Regulatory Authority) have been published in the Official Gazette.  Blending 3% locally produced ethanol with gasoline sold in Turkey is on the agenda. Similarly, blending 2% locally produced biodiesel into diesel oil has also been discussed but production has not met expectations. Plants and various seeds with high fat content such as soybeans can be used in biodiesel production for cars; however, since these are important sources of food, using them in biodiesel production might lead to problems in the future.  Therefore, we are conducting research on the use of algae for local production of auto-biodiesel.  As fatty types of algae give a high yield, they are ideal for this purpose.  Although petroleum prices are currently falling, algae are still very popular around the world. The price of algae based biodiesel in the USA is $ 6-10 per gallon.  The production cost is very high for the time being, and our technical scientific research is focusing on ways to bring these costs down.  We believe we can help reduce Turkey’s dependence on other countries for petroleum. Thus, in addition to biodiesel, we have also started work on the production of bio-hydrogen.”

Dr. Haznedaroğlu said that apart from food and energy sectors, algae have beneficial functions in improving the quality of water. He said algae cultures could be used to improve the quality of the municipal water supply and to purify industrial wastewater.

Hazards of Dangerous Waste Can Be Reduced with Algae

Dr. Haznedaroğlu said, “Because algae are photosynthetic organisms and feed on nitrogen and phosphorus, they cleanse pollutants in the water. That is to say, they can both prevent environmental pollution and contribute to energy generation by producing biodiesel through the fat they accumulate. Another important point is that we can use algae in eliminating the risk of heavy metals in the environment caused by haphazardly discarded e-waste and various industrial production activities.  As a result, thanks to algae technologies, we will be able to contribute to the economy by producing food and energy, and protect our environment by eliminating pollutants.”

Aegean and Mediterranean Climates are the Most Suitable for Algae Cultivation

Dr. Haznedaroğlu stated that since algae grow very easily in warm and sunny climates, the Aegean and Mediterranean regions are ideal for outdoor cultivation; algae can be also easily grown in greenhouses in other parts of Turkey.