Muscat – Three students of German University of Technology in Oman (GUtech) have researched a project to utilise the diverse types of algae found in the sultanate as a source of medicine, food, fertilisers and alternative energy, such as biofuels and green hydrogen.
The project envisages reducing air pollution by absorbing carbon dioxide, as well as using microalgae for water treatment.
“Our project explores the potential applications of microalgae in bioenergy, food and pharmaceutical industries,” said Mona al Maashani, leader of the student team, comprising Maryam Anwar al Balushi and Fatma al Hinai.
According to Mona, the team was concerned about air pollution and so came up with the idea for the research project to use algae in mitigating the consequences of such pollution.
Called ‘Design of Photobioreactor for Microalgae Cultivation towards hydrogen production’, the project was declared one of three winning projects of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation’s Upgrade Programme recently.
“We started conducting our research in February last year, having several meetings with our supervisor and co-supervisors. In the following few months, we analysed photobioreactors further, designed a mechanical prototype, and finished the research in September.”
Mona added that the project aims to achieve various goals aligned with Oman Vision 2040 for renewable energy and resource diversification. “Our research explores the potential applications of microalgae in bioenergy, food and pharmaceutical industries, as well as the challenges and limitations that may arise and ways to overcome these. We employ photobioreactors to cultivate microorganisms that can produce biofuels, chemicals and pharmaceuticals, which may be more sustainable and cost-effective than traditional methods. Additionally, bioreactors can be used to treat industrial and agricultural waste, ensuring a more sustainable and environmentally friendly future.”
According to Mona, the main challenges faced during the project included logistical issues related to obtaining materials and specific algae species, as well as the need for advanced equipment to monitor and isolate cells during cultivation.
“During the design and experimentation phase, issues such as leaks caused by improper use of silicone glue and lack of information on microalgae biology and growth conditions were encountered. Additionally, problems with temperature sensors and the high cost of special glass for larger reactors and equipment were encountered. Despite these challenges, solutions were found, and the project continues to progress,” said Mona.
The group thanked their parents, saying, “This project would not have been possible without the support of our parents and family. We would like to express our sincere gratitude to them for all the love, sacrifice and patience over the years to ensure the success of this project.”
She noted that the project leverages the availability of diverse microalgae in the country for the benefit of various industries. “Overall, this project is a valuable scientific achievement that helps meet the needs and goals of Oman.”