Water algae are soft sticky organisms, at first sight they look unattractive. Some are a suitable food; others serve as a natural dye. Scientists have found a way to use algae to produce carbon fiber and industrial material that is as hard as steel but with much less weight.

The new AlgaeTec facility at Ludwig Bölkow Campus, Ottobrunn – Photo: Andreas Heddergott / TUM

Scientists estimate that there are some 150,000 different types of algae. Around 5,000 of them have been fundamentally characterized, yet only around ten species have been implemented for commercial exploitation.

Carbon Fibers

A team of the Technical University of Munich, Germany, led by Thomas Brück, used algae oil to produce carbon fibers. These fibers are strong and lightweight materials that can be used in a wide range of industries, from car manufacturing through aircraft to the construction industry.

Greener Industrial Material

Researchers have found that compared to steel or concrete production, carbon fiber production requires much less energy and also releases much less carbon into the atmosphere.

Algae are known for their ability to absorb CO2 from the atmosphere as they grow. CO2 remains inside the material and is not released into the atmosphere during carbon fiber production using algal oil as input material.

e-scooter with a step made from a composite material integrating granite and carbon fibers from algae.

If products made of algal carbon fiber materials need to be disposed of, it is enough to crush and store them underground.

“So, you have this very new advanced material in which you can truly store atmospheric carbon indefinitely,” says Brück.

He adds that the introduction of new technology to produce strong industrial materials, which will also benefit the climate, will require large investments in algae cultivation.

Souce and credit: A. Battenburg/Technical University of Munich, Andreas Heddergott/TUM, https://www.ecowatch.com/algae-science-material-hard-as-steel-2640980632.html