This is a question we get asked ALL THE TIME! Is algae a plant? Is it vegan? Is it plant based? Is algae a fish? To answer these questions as simply as possible, no, yes, yes, no. Still confused? Ya we were too. Algae, especially micro-algae—Spirulina and Chlorella—are confusing aquatic organisms that do so much in a very efficient and small package. There are thousands of species of micro-algae, all with unique complexities, benefits, and dangers (like some plants, some species of algae are toxic). Algae, whether micro or macro, are key to our existence and can revolutionise the way we eat, produce, and live. But more on this later.
Algae is not a plant
If algae isn’t a plant, what is it? Algae is a Cyanobacteria—as are all forms of blue-green algae. Cyanobacteria are gram-negative bacteria, and thus are prokaryotes—we are also very confused with all this terminology, don’t worry. Blue-green algae are capable of independently conducting nitrogen fixation, the process in which nitrogen combines with other elements to form greater reactive nitrogen compounds such as ammonia, nitrates, or nitrites.
The name Cyanobacteria essentially means “blue-bacteria” due to the meaning of the prefix “cyano” being blue. The blue in cyanobacteria comes from the blue pigment phycocyanin, which is a light harvesting pigment. Cyanobacteria have some of the green pigment chlorophyll, which harvests light energy during the photosynthetic process. Other pigments present in micro-algae include the red pigment phycoerythrin, which absorbs green light.
Types of algae
To date, over 25,000 species of algae have been isolated and identified. All of which perform photosynthesis to varying degrees. For simplicity, this post will only mention some of the many types of algae. Every type (classification) offers unique benefits for various uses. For example, Chlorophyta (green algae) which exist in around 8,000 species and contain large amounts of the pigment chlorophyll. Rhodophyta (red algae), of which there exist approximately 6,000 species, most of which are marine algae. Rhodophyta, unlike Cyanobacteria, are usually multi-cellular and grow attached to rocks of other algae.
We will be releasing a future post in which we detail all the various types and forms of micro-algae.
What makes algae so great?
Micro-algae, unlike other crops, offers a wide-array of uses. Uses include, but are not limited to agriculture applications, consumer foods, cosmetics, biofuels and more. Micro-algae produce at a rate much faster than all other crops. For example, the algae we use to make our IMPACT Bars can be harvested every 8 hours. Additionally, micro-algae are rich in varying amounts of protein, fats, sugars and fibres, and vitamins and minerals. These attributes give micro-algae a unique selling point, making them highly enticing to companies like us, where we use these incredible cyanobacteria to build food products.
All these attributes make algae an exceptional alternative to many of the crops used widely in industry, such as soy, corn, and wheat. However, algae’s ability to efficiently produce vast amounts of oxygen and clean the air is what really sets it apart. All forms of algae, whether micro or macro, are robust oxygen producing organisms. Micro-algae, like Spirulina, offer a 2 to 1 carbon capture ratio—meaning they produce 2 grams of O2 for every gram of CO2 removed from the atmosphere. It has also been reported that Spirulina has an approximate CO2 fixation rate 10 times greater than terrestrial (land) plants. Additionally, micro-algae don’t require large amounts of fertile land to grow and are capable of reusing 90%+ of the water used in the growing process.
Pretty cool if you ask us!
All of the information in this post was found in these three sources: