The Institute of Hydrobiology at the Chinese Academy of Sciences is a comprehensive academic research institution devoted to the studies of life processes of inland aquatic organisms, ecological environment protection and utilization of biological resources.

China Daily Editor Zhang Shiyu writes that Wang Qiang, the lead scientist behind a project at the Chinese Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Hydrobiology, said a new strain of microalgae they are developing has recently entered a test phase for cleaning emissions produced by the refineries of Sinopec, China’s largest oil and gas company.

“Our microalgae’s highest consumption efficiency for nitrogen oxides — a key ingredient for smog — can reach around 96 percent,” Dr. Wang said. “These new microalgae can greatly reduce industrial emissions and curb air pollution in a cost-effective and environmentally friendly way.”

A traditional nitrogen oxide removal installation requires high energy and pressure, and has an annual cost of about 640,000 yuan ($98,000) to remove 1 metric ton of gas.

But tests show the algae-based cleansing method is safer, requires less energy and produces algae biomass that can be used and sold for more than 210,000 yuan ($31,500) a ton. “Once the microalgae population grows to a certain volume, we can extract the oil from the microorganisms to produce biofuel, fish feeds, fertilizers, health supplements and a wide range of products,” he said.

However, a key challenge with microalgae is cultivation and harvesting using a cost-efficient method, said Dr. Wang. The world currently produces only around 100,000 tons of microalgae a year, “not nearly enough to satisfy energy or manufacturing needs”, he added.

In addition, he said, public and government officials often have the misconception that microalgae cause algae blooms that can destroy marine ecosystems. “We hope the public can learn more about the benefits that microalgae have for the environment and human health.”