Back in the years circa 2004 to 2007 there were several scientific journals discussing the potential uses of algae. Something most of us think about with distain. We often think of algae as something that either inconveniences us by making a surface slick or something that can make us sick. Fortunately, the Science-minded people also ask, how can we harness the properties of algae?
I’ll be the first to admit that sometimes Science-minded people come up with terrible ideas. They can get so carried away with “Can I?” that they don’t stop long enough to ask the question, “Should I?” This the basic premise behind the 1896 novel The Island of Dr Moreau by H.G. Wells. (For context, The Origin of Species was published by Charles Darwin in 1859 and the subsequent theories of Darwinism were at the forefront of the social minds of the day.)
I’m consciously using the term “Science-minded” because I don’t believe that a person needs to hold a degree from a prestigious university to be a “science-minded” person. You only have to be willing to explore your ideas with a sensible set of standards that can be shared and replicated by another person. By this perspective, science is not so different from art in many ways. I know not everyone shares this perspective though.
When I first moved to Seattle in 1998 to attend the University of Washington, I lived in a house with six other college roommates. One of my roommates was a Danish fellow studying material science. In the beginning, he always had this smile on his face as if everything I said amused him. So, I “dragged the cat out of the bush” as we poor rural American folk might say and asked him if all Danes were elitist snobs or just him? He was surprised at first then said, “Well you are studying a ‘Soft Science’ major.” Apparently, Social Science (aka Sociology) is not real science because it’s not “hard science.”
We had many good discussions after this first exchange. It was important to me to illustrate that anything that worked towards the betterment and/or understanding of the human race was no less important than the flesh and bone that we are made of. It has been my passion since then to be a bridge builder between different personalities and schools of thought for a common cause. My new mission is to marry all that with the belief that nature is not our adversary, but our ally in making the world better for all species and the health of the planet itself.
Why can’t electric cars be solar-powered?
Because they don’t have enough surface space for the photovoltaic cells to collect enough solar energy for the battery to be reasonably recharged.
Science-minded researchers then must ask themselves questions like; How can we take advantage of the full surface of the vehicle then? Most obvious solutions would be either by the paint or the material the vehicle is made of. In the links below you can see that algae has been added to bricks to store carbon and as a pigment for natural dyes, but not currently for solar storage or transference.
I have two hypothesis based on the current uses of algae: 1. What if it could be used to help collect solar energy for electric vehicles by adding some sort of film or layer? And 2. What if it could help insulate people in desert regions from extreme heat? Something similar in idea to Frank Herbert’s Stillsuits in his 1965 novel Dune.
Sometimes I think of the realm of magic and fiction writing as science concepts we don’t yet understand. There are charlatans that claim to be scientists and charlatans who claim they can tell you your future. Remember when bloodletting was a thing? Or when germs were thought to be a superstition? Invisible bugs you say? Hogwash! We are flesh and bone and blood. We are hair and teeth and nails. We are mucus and sperm and eggs. We are mind, body and spirit. We are a lot of things and so too are many elements in the natural world including photosynthetic eukaryotic organisms (Chlorophyta, i.e. algae) and heterotrophic eukaryotic organisms (fungus, i.e. mushrooms). Our own digestive systems are unique biomes unto themself with their own specialized organisms in the form of bacterial flora!
What I like about using algae or fungi to help solve global problems is that it does not require digging into mountains for more metal alloys. It is nurturing truly sustainable options that have what environmentalists call a “cradle to the grave” lifecycle. We are not left with polluted waters or land and deplorable working conditions to extract or attempt to recycle it.
I for one look forward to our new green overlords.
What if we could learn to photosynthesize to supplement our diets?
Brilliant Planet – A company working to sequester gigatons of carbon by absorbing it through algae and burying it.