THE HAGUE – Microalgae are capable of absorbing three times their mass in atmospheric pollution and a Chilean company lead by women uses them to curb air pollution in highly industrialized areas, the company’s director told EFE on Wednesday.
Andrea Irarrazaval, Clean Energy director, has harnessed the power of these microorganisms to create cutting edge technology she developed 15 years ago with the aim of improving the quality of life of communities that live in close proximity to polluting power plants.
Microalgae have the capacity to reduce pollution because they use greenhouse gasses as nourishment and they have a very impressive reproduction rate by which they are able to increase their size five-fold in just one day.
“We interrupt the gas pipelines before they reach the chimney and with those gases, in a simple way, we feed the algae” Irarrazaval explains.
“We give them enough nutrients so that they can multiply and perform their photosynthesis like any other organism, but in our own way, so that there is exponential growth and greater gas consumption.”
This procedure, within industrial settings, reduces the amount of pollution in the air and produces pure oxygen that is liberated into the atmosphere.
Beyond industrial areas a key aspiration of this company is to tackle this problem in cities in order to improve the environmental conditions of places like Shanghai (China), Mexico City (Mexico), Santiago (Chile) and Bogota (Colombia), which are places that need to reduce their emissions, something Clean Energy can do with its technology, its director told Efe.
The project first emerged in the 1990s when Irarrazaval was living in Ventanas, near Viña del Mar, one of the most polluted areas in Chile and where she witnessed how the sea and lands were “dying” as a result of emissions.
“It is a fairly complicated situation,” she adds “Children fall ill, people get intoxicated, no crops can be sown in the soil, what is planted cannot be consumed, the sea is totally contaminated and the air reminds us every so often that industries are present and that we need to do something,” she said.
Once Irarrazaval had finished her work placements she got to work researching and sourcing funding to develop a technology that has been proven to work in cement factories and petroleum, natural gas and thermoelectric plants, which she says are all key industries that have contributed to the climate crisis.
Decades after developing the Clean Energy concept, her work has been acknowledged on an international scale and was one of the 400 non-European companies that took part in the Global Entrepreneurship Summit from June 3-5 in The Netherlands.
The concept has been rolled out across 38 countries and has been recognized by the UN as a decontaminating project that uses algae as a bio-filter and has been selected to contribute to the next UN climate summit scheduled to take place in Chile in December.
For all its success, Clean Energy is still a modest-sized company and Irarrazaval hopes to introduce “many more women to science,” Irarrazaval told Efe.
The company consists of 24 female experts working across different areas. They have created partnerships with other companies that are working on reducing the volume of plastic in the oceans.
“Because it is a new technology, developed in Latin America, it has been a bit difficult. It has been a huge challenge,” the director continued.
“Everyone asks themselves why they have not developed the idea in Asia or Silicon Valley if we are importing nearly everything. It has been a much longer process of persuasion but from Latin America, many things can be done,” she added.
Irarrazaval regrets that her team has struggled to prove its potential in a male-dominated environment.
“The challenge is even greater because they (the men) doubted: Woman, entrepreneur, technology and Latin America? It is a slow process but once it proves its worth it becomes an interesting project to put into practice with added economic advantages,” the expert and entrepreneur concluded.