Promising signs


If research being carried out by the University of the West Indies (UWI), Cave Hill Campus, proves to be successful then Barbados could soon be producing tons of algae for multiple purposes.

The Cave Hill Campus has embarked on a project to test the viability of producing algae here on a large scale with the intention of making Barbados a more environmentally friendly society while producing the organism to be used in various products.

Professor of organic chemistry Winston Tinto is overseeing the project. He told Barbados TODAY the research, which started the first week of December 2013, was already showing promising signs.

“What we have done recently is to scale up. We were working with just the small flasks and now we bought some photobioreactors and we plan to work at the 100 meter scale,” he said.

“What we hope to do is develop intellectual property so that we can sell it to somebody who might be more interested in going into the large-scale work. I don’t see Barbados commercializing this work any time soon,” added Tinto.

The professor said the plan was to initially have breweries and sewage treatment plants using algae in their operations.

“So what we hope to do is use some of this to do remediation work on the wastewater to make it cleaner. What we plan to do also is the solid waste that they generate we hope to get bacteria and fungi that can work on them to convert them to useful compound,” explained Tinto.

He said there were also plans to work with the Ministry of Agriculture when the multipurpose factory was developed, to capture the carbon dioxide and convert it “to useful materials”.

Another aspect of the plan was to grow the organism on a large scale so it could be used to produce Omega3, pharmaceuticals, cosmetics and food dye, and in the long term, biodiesel fuel.

“This is significant in the sense that Barbados is a small country. We plan to do cutting-edge research here that we can utilize down the road,” said the science professor.

The research was started after the Cave Hill Campus contacting British based marine biologist Douglas McKenzie to help with the research last year, and after securing funding.

McKenzie is a co-founder and director at Xanthella, a company that focuses on specialized systems for the production of algae.

Speaking to Barbados TODAY recently as he installed some photobioreactors at the university, McKenzie said the intention was to produce about 1,000 meters of the organism and “add more as we go along depending on how successful it is”.

The research could last as long as three years.

The university recently received about 28 acres of land which Tinto said would also be put into algae production.

“Certainly there is a lot of interest worldwide. For Barbados, which uses oil for electricity, fossil oil is expensive and will become more expensive; so if you are able to assess if you can produce your own bio-fuel from algae, seems like an important strategic thing to do, also helping Barbados to become greener,” said McKenzie. 

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