CO2 CAPTURE AND SEQUESTRATION BY MICRO-ALGAE

Kumar Uddipto, Haripada Bhunia and Pramod K. Bajpai
Department of Chemical Engineering, Thapar University, Patiala -147004
pkbajpai@thapar.edu

Key words -Carbon capture, Bio-fixation, Micro-algae
Algal species

INTRODUCTION
Advances in technology have led to rapid industrialization over the last few decades or so. As with all
advancements, there are some downsides to it. This rapid industrialization has also indirectly brought about
global warming via the greenhouse effect route. Greenhouse gases consist of carbon dioxide, nitrous oxide,
methane etc. among others. CO2 is of chief importance amongst these due to the highest concentrations
present in the atmosphere. This is primarily due to fossil fuels and their derivatives being the primary fuel
sources in industries and for power generation. Several research projects have suggested different ways to
reduce atmospheric concentration of this compound, classified into three categories:
To reduce power consumption, improving efficiency of use
To reduce CO2 emissions by using energy sources that do not release it
To develop clean technologies for captures and sequestration of CO2, e.g., biological fixation of CO2.
Capturing, transporting and storing CO2 – the three stages of CO2 capture and sequestration by physical
means are expensive processes. Thereby we need to find out more economically feasible methods of
Carbon dioxide mitigation. Bio-capture and sequestration are attractive options, due to their being
relatively cost effective compared to other methods. Bio-fixation is done by microalgal photosynthesis, to
reduce carbon dioxide levels [1]
Microalgal culture CO2 mitigation is an effective strategy, since microalgae have a greater photosynthetic
efficiency as compared to many higher plants and are tolerant to relatively high CO2 levels. One kilogram
of algal dry cell weight utilizes around 1.83 kg of CO2. Annually around 54.9–67.7 tonnes of CO2 can be
sequestered from raceway ponds corresponding to annual dry weight biomass production rate of 30–37
tonnes per hectare. [2]
Numerous studies have been performed, in order to ascertain the best microalgal strain. In many cases,
cyanobacteria, especially Anabaena sp. have been reported to meet with considerable success. Biological
fixation by microlalgal photosynthesis is of special interest because od the following. It is possible that
flue gas containing 2~5% CO2 can be fed directly to the photo bioreactor. Additionally, high value
products may be obtained, in two forms – stable mineralized carbon for sequestration as well as products of
high commercial value such as biodiesel. Using suitable strategies either one or both of the products may
be obtained.
[3] Closed systems have a distinct advantage especially pertaining to loss of control over parameters – pH,
Agitation, aeration, nutrition conditions as well as light availability owing to daily cycles as well as
different climatic cycles during the day. In open systems, the flue gas has very low residence time
distribution which is not sufficient for the algal biomass to sequester CO2. [4] Hence it is not a viable
option. Consequently, closed systems which allow for control of all above mentioned parameters are a
more practical option.
ALGAL PHYLOGENY
Green algae and cyanobacteria belong to a large group of photosynthetic organisms. They grow in varied
climates and environments (terrestrial, salt-water, freshwater etc.). Presence of chlorophyll in a single algal
cell allows for easier studies on CO2 assimilation, as compared to conventional plants. Well defined
nucleus, a cell wall, chloroplast containing chlorophyll and other pigments, pyrenoid, a dense region
containing starch granules on its surface, stigma, and flagella are the major components of green algae. [5]
Cyanobacteria can differentiate into different cell types.
CO2 FIXATION ROUTE
CO2 is fixed by photosynthesis process. Photosynthesis consists of two steps – Light reactions, which take
place in presence of light and dark reactions which take place under both absence and presence of light.
The first step, or the light reaction is the catabolic step, which involves release of energy. This energy is
stored in organic form in the second step or the dark reaction. Proper cycling of the light and dark circles is
very important in order to sequester carbon. Excess exposure to lighting conditions or in oxygen rich
environments may lead to photo inhibition, which reduces the efficiency of the photosynthetic process.
When photo inhibition occurs, CO2 may actually be released into the environment.
ENVIRONMENTAL FACTORS
Temperature and CO2 concentration – Flue gases have temperatures upto 120 C. Certain thermophilic
micro-organisms are known to survive till temperatures of 60 C. It is suggested that the temperature
dependent solubility of CO2 gives an advantage to thermophilic algae to tolerate a higher concentration of
CO2. [6] Table 1 depicts temperature tolerance levels of several bacteria.
pH – CO2 concentration levels have a role to play in fall of pH. In flue gas, SOx levels affect pH fall to a
greater degree than CO2 level. At such low levels, induced by SOx, total growth inhibition is reported to
take place.[7], pH levels must be maintained at suitable levels with proper buffers.
Light cycles – Light/ Dark cycles play a determinant factor in photosynthetic activity as well as growth rate
of plants. At the same time, cell concentrations also play a vital role, in determining light available to cells,
as with a greater cell density the light availability decreases. Hours of light (natural or simulated) received
or light cycles, are also instrumental in determining amount of CO2 fixation as well as cell growth rate.[8]

Maximum
temperature
tolerance (°C)
60

Maximum CO2%
(v/v)
tolerance
100

Maximum SOx
(ppm)
tolerance
-

Maximum NOx
(ppm)
tolerance
-

30
-

80
70

-

-

60

60

-

-

45
-

45
40
15

-

100

Eudorina sp.
30
Dunaliella
tertiolecta
Chlamydomonas sp. 35
MGA 161

20
15

-

1000

15

-

-

Nannochloris sp.
Tetraselmis sp.
Monoraphidium
minutum

15
14

185

100
125

Cyanidium
caldarium
Scenedesmus sp.
Chlorococcum
littorale
Synechococcus
elongates
Euglena gracilis
Chlorella sp.
Chlorella sp. HA–1

25
-

Table 1 Temperature and flue gas tolerance of various algal species

[3]

PHOTO BIOREACTOR DESIGN
Algal growth is related to the light pattern inside a temperature controlled photo bioreactor. Various decision
parameters ought to be kept in mind before the selection and design of a photo bioreactor. Some of them are –
Cultivation location, Algae species, reactor type and configuration, Light path, illumination area, Substrate used and
operating conditions. Another factor to be kept in mind, should be the primary and secondary purposes (if any) for
algal growth e.g. CO2 mitigation, Bio-fuel production, Algal growth study, or any other commercial purpose. Each
of these objectives, would require different operating conditions. It is also possible to fulfill, two or more such
objectives simultaneously. For this, reactor design, as well as reactor operating conditions would have to be
optimized.[9]
CONCLUSION
Using algal growth, in photo-bioreactors requires some capital costs, but relatively low operating costs as compared
to other CO2 capture methods. Further studies using mixed cultures as well as devising and using different reactor
configurations as well as usage of multiple reactors, could expand the possibilities, thus leading to opening new
frontiers of research in this area.
FUTURE RECOMMENDATIONS
Using photo-bioreactor in conjunction with other systems – open pond as well as other physic-chemical CO2
methods, will lead to better optimization of CO2 capture. Overall, each method be it biological or physico-chemical
has its’ own pros and cons. Our objective is not to find out which method is better or worse, but to work together for
a cleaner environment and reduction of CO2 levels as whole.
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