Small but mighty: How UArizona researchers are harnessing the power of algae to capture carbon

Wednesday, April 20, 2022
Astrobiologist Daniel Apai (right) and biosystems engineer Joel Cuello (left) work with algae in the lab. Their team aims to harness the power of coccolithophores, which are a single-celled marine algae that use atmospheric carbon dioxide and calcium from saltwater to create intricate shells made of calcium carbonate. The shells are made from a very stable, chalk-like mineral. They can be grown efficiently, then stored to trap carbon dioxide. Photo: Chris Richards

An astrobiologist, an engineer and an ecologist walk into a lab.... They call themselves Atmospherica and they've teamed up to mitigate the worst effects of climate change.

The team includes Dennis Apai, a University of Arizona professor of astronomy and planetary sciences who studies planets orbiting other stars; Joel Cuello, a professor of agricultural and biosystems engineering and BIO5 Institute member; Régis Ferrière, an associate professor of ecology and evolutionary biology; Martin Schlecker, an astrophysicist and postdoctoral research associate; and Jack Welchert, a biosystems engineering doctoral student.

On Earth, the carbon cycle plays a key role in maintaining conditions for life. Earth releases carbon into the atmosphere and reabsorbs it through geological and biological processes. But humans have released more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than the carbon cycle naturally would, causing global temperatures to rise.

The Atmospherica team hopes to be a part of the solution, by harnessing the power of algae.

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