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How Effective is Green Algae (C.

reinhardtii) in reducing the levels of

Carbon Dioxide in the air?

VCAA Number: 12256045T


This investigation is to focus on the effectiveness of Green Algae in reducing the levels of
CO2 in the air. The question guiding this research project is; How effective is Green Algae (C.
reinhardtii) in reducing the levels of CO2 in the air? This topic arose from a global issue
causing much debate in todays society, Climate Change. As CO2 is a greenhouse gas that
significantly contributes to Climate Change. It is a necessity to reduce CO2 levels to combat
Climate Change.
By taking a plant species that is efficient in reducing CO2 levels such as Green Algae, then it
may be possible to put a stop to Climate Change. Sudhakar, K., Suresh, S., Premalatha, M.,
2011 confirmed that Algae Photosynthesize (gain energy from sunlight) quicker than most
plants. As CO2 is a main component of the process of Photosynthesis, the quick pace of the
process must require the Algae to effectively absorb CO2.
Results contained in this report are from scientific experiments undertaken using pH
Universal Indicator, as a method by which to measure CO2 levels in water after CO2 was
expelled into the water, from the Green Algae. The results confirmed that the Green Algae
were effective at reducing the levels of CO2 in the air after 30 minutes. This transference of
CO2 was indicated by an increase in pH levels from 7.4 to 8.1 after 30 minutes, in the
Experimental sample (with Algae), whereas, there was no transference of CO2 in the Control
sample, where the pH remained at 7.4 after 30 minutes.
As demonstrated by the findings of this investigation, the levels of CO2 in the air can
effectively be reduced by Green Algae after 30 minutes. However, more research needs to be
undertaken into cultivation by means of Algal farms and the effectiveness of other species of
Algae. Research undertaken with more time and in more natural environments, may also
provide further insight into this topic.
I would like to acknowledge those who mentored me throughout the period which this
project was undertaken. They are Associate Professor Nichola Porter, RMIT University,
Melbourne, for providing me with information regarding methods that could be used to
measure CO2 levels, in particular the use of pH Universal Indicator, the final method
used in this study. Id especially like to thank also Professor Aidyn Mouradov, RMIT
University, for providing me with the Algae required in this project and allowing me to
work in his laboratory to conduct my experiments. Thirdly, Id like to thank Judith
Holcombe, Bendigo Senior Secondary College, for assisting with the scientific
components of writing up this project.


Literature Review..6


Natural change in the Earths climate has happened many times before. However, over the
past 200 years humans have changed the face of this planet by pumping tonnes of gases into
the air each day. The most crucial of these Greenhouse Gases, (termed so because they
contribute to warming the Earths surface) is referred to as Carbon Dioxide, (CO2). Carbon
Dioxide is a natural, colourless, odourless gas that is found in the Earths atmosphere;
humans are increasing the levels of CO2 through burning of fossil fuels; e.g. Coal. The
current concentration of CO2 in the atmosphere is 398.03ppm (parts per million). (Pieter, T.
Dr., Keeling, R. Dr. Trends in Atmospheric Carbon Dioxide. [Online] Accessible: Date Accessed: 25/03/2014).
It is when the levels of CO2 in the air increase to unprecedented levels (as they are now) that
there can be issues arising, regarding impacts on health and the environment. These impacts
are due to Climate Change resulting from increased levels of CO2, which reduce the levels of
UV Radiation from the sun leaving the Earths atmosphere. This leads to warming of the
planets climate. To prevent the planet from warming too much, as this can lead to negative
impacts on society, health, economy and the environment, including water and food sources,
there is a strong need to address increasing CO2 levels. (Duke, Geoff (2013) Issues of
Sustainability, VCE Environmental Science Units 3 and 4 3rd Edition, Cowan, G., Edwards,
C. (Ed.). Victorian Association for Environmental Education Ltd: Melbourne. 5. The
Enhanced Greenhouse Effect: impacts and responses. pg.63).
It is understood that CO2 is absorbed by plants through Photosynthesis, the process by which
plants obtain energy from sunlight, which is necessary for them to grow. This investigation
aims to determine whether Algae is an effective absorber of CO2. Algae have been known to
grow substantially under favourable conditions; still or slow moving water, abundant sunlight
and sufficient nutrients. (Australian Government, Department of Sustainability, Environment,
Water, Population and Communities (2012) Blue-green Algae (Cyanobacteria) and Water
Accessible: Date accessed: 03/2014) Thus, the Algae must be
able to readily photosynthesize by absorbing CO2.
Hence, the research question focused on is:
How effective is Green Algae (C. reinhardtt) in reducing the levels of Carbon Dioxide in
the air?
Enhanced levels of CO2 in the Earths atmosphere have been blamed for the onset of Climate
Change, one of the greatest issues facing society today. Resulting increased temperatures will
lead to rising sea levels, extreme weather patterns, and damage to economy, infrastructure,
plant and animal health. For these reasons, there is a necessity for us, as human beings to
address changes in CO2 levels and find a solution, which will reduce CO2 levels in the air,
decreasing the impact of, or even stopping Climate Change.

That solution may be Green Algae, a plant species that is effective in reducing the levels of
CO2 in the air. By growing it across the planet, we could have a positive impact by reducing
the level of CO2 therefore, reducing Climate Change. According to Sudhakar, K., Suresh, S.,
Premalatha, M., 2011, micro-algae based technology might be the most promising,
environmentally and cost-effective means of reducing CO2 emissions in the energy sector.
Furthermore, microalgae appear to photosynthesize more efficiently than plants grown on
land and they are efficient at reducing CO2, they use light, nutrients and other resources very
effectively and have therefore, higher productivity with comparatively low water use
compared to terrestrial (land) plants. (Sudhakar, K., Suresh, S., Premalatha, M. (2011) An
overview of CO2 mitigation using algae cultivation technology. International journal of
chemical research [online] Available: Date
Accessed: 11/09/2014).
Also Algae have many uses and benefits such as a sustainable source of biomass, food, fuels
and oils, plastics, cosmetics, fertiliser and Algae can even be used to purify water. (The Algae
Accessible: Date Accessed: 16/05/2014). Therefore, increased
use of Algae will have many advantages for society.

Literature Review

In 1940 Ruben and Kamen demonstrated through experiments that barley roots took up CO2,
however identifying the elements contained in the CO2 was prevented due to the short
lifespan of the Carbon Isotope (Isotopes are varied forms of chemical elements) used in the
research. (Stolwijk, Thimann, 1957). The limitations due to the isotopes short lifespan could
be overcome by using another form of Carbon. Would Green Algae too be capable of
absorbing CO2? Past research shows that for millions of years Algae have been absorbing
CO2 from the air through Photosynthesis.
To be able to determine the effectiveness of Algae in reducing CO2 levels in the air, first one
must be able to measure the CO2 levels in the air. The most effective way of undertaking this
would involve using a Microprocessor Controlled Portable IR Spectrometer (David H.F.
Liu (editor) (1997) Environmental Engineers Handbook Revised 2nd Ed. 5. Air Pollution
Altwicker. R.E et al. pg. 314.) which is a device that can provide specific measurements of
CO2 levels. However, it was not possible to access such a device for this investigation.
Another method of measuring CO2 levels researched was by using Hanna pHep4 meters
which register CO2 levels by detecting pH levels, in water. In turn these meters indicate
whether CO2 is present. However, the devices needed to be carefully calibrated to show
accurate results. (Accessible: Date
accessed: 29/08/2014).
A third method considered was conducting a Limewater test, which is a common way of
indicating CO2. By bubbling air into Limewater, the Limewater becomes milky when CO2 is
detected. It does not measure the levels of CO2 present in the air; it just shows the gas is
Another indicator used by scientists to understand how organisms (such as Algae) influence
CO2 levels is Bromothymol blue, a substance that turns from yellow-green to blue when CO2
is present (Birkett, L, Thorp, V. (2009) Monitoring Ecosystems VCE Environmental Science
Unit 1 2nd Ed. Pyre, G. (Editor) 5. Biogeochemical cycles pg. 29). Similar to Limewater it
doesnt measure the levels of CO2 present; it just shows that CO2 gas is present.
Finally a fifth method of using pH Universal Indicator, (a chemical that changes colour due to
changes in the acidity or alkalinity of a substance) to measure the levels of CO2 in the air, by
observing a colour change, in the solution, when CO2 was detected. It was investigated and
approved on the basis that it was the most accessible and efficient. pH is a scale from 1 -14
that indicates the acidity or alkalinity of a substance (reference), where 1 is most acidic
(colour- red) and 14 is most alkaline (colour purple). The pH levels decreases dramatically
when CO2 levels are increased in the presence of water.

According to past research by Gaffron, H (1940). The absorption of Hydrogen in green algae
was connected to a reduction of CO2 levels. However, Gaffrons study doesnt specify the
origins of CO2 levels measured; it is therefore unclear, whether it was CO2 levels in the air
that were measured. Furthermore, Sivakumar, G, Jianfeng, X, et al, 2011 confirmed that one
of the prime benefits of algal biofuel production is CO2 removal from the air, combating
Climate Change. Different species of Algae have different ability to use CO2 effectively.
According to Ge et al, 2010, Algal species such as Botyrococcus thrive on CO2, whereas
elevated CO2 levels can inhibit some species e.g. Chlorella. (Chiu et al, 2008) Those species
that thrive on CO2 must be able to effectively reduce CO2 levels in the air to a point of
reducing Climate Change.
While there are some negative effects to the environment, plant and animal health from
Algae, the severity of these impacts depends on the species of Algae. Most species of Algae
are harmless (Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), National Center for
Environmental Health (2012) Harmful Algal Blooms [online] Accessible: Date Accessed: 10/09/2014). Bluegreen Algae produce toxins, which can be harmful to the environment and plant, animal
health. Some toxins from Blue-green Algae in drinking water can cause severe damage to
humans. (Intergovernmental Oceanographic Commission of UNESCO. What are harmful
Accessible: Date Accessed:
10/09/2014). Neither the UNESCO nor CDC mentions anywhere that there are any toxic, or
other negative effects from Green Algae. Despite these impacts however, according to Sin,
Hans-Werner 2012, the benefits of CO2 sequestion (reduction) outweigh the impacts that
higher CO2 levels will have on the planet as a whole.
UK Royal Navy researchers have also found that in Antarctica, an abundance of Green
Algae, fed by iron particles from melting icebergs, has shown to be effective in removing
CO2 from the air. The Algal Bloom, according to the UK teams research has been
reducing CO2 levels for millions of years. (Williams, Andrew (2009) Green algal bloom
Date accessed: 10/09/2014).
Green Algae can absorb CO2 in a very short amount of time, as the Algae absorb CO2 through
the process of Photosynthesis. Photosynthesis is regularly at work in the cells of the Algae. In
favourable conditions; sunlight, and nutrients, rapid Photosynthesis occurs.


The method used in this study was a Quantitative Positivist method. Data collected from the
study was taken from a number of scientific experiments. Scientific experiments were
selected because they provide specific data based on the standardized method undertaken
during the experimental process. Scientific experiments can also be repeated over and over,
increasing data reliability. (Section 3, An overview of quantitative and qualitative data
collection methods. 5. Data collection method some tips and comparisons. Accessible: Date accessed: 26/08/2014). Conducting any
scientific experiment involves manipulating the independent variable, the variable that stands
alone, uninfluenced by other variables (things) that are being measured (Graphing Tutorial
Accessible: Date accessed:
4/09/2014). The independent variable in this case is the impact of the green algae on CO2
levels in the air. The manipulation of the independent variable allows the effect on the
dependent variable (CO2 levels in the air) to be measured. External variables will be
controlled so that the casual relationship between the independent and dependent variable is
seen; as a cause and effect relationship. (Advantages and disadvantages of scientific method.
Accessible: Date accessed:
Firstly, it was necessary to conduct an experiment to determine the most appropriate method
to measure changes in CO2 levels in the air. An experiment using a straw to bubble CO2 into
a beaker was undertaken to determine this (see findings, Table A for results).
The method selected was the use of a Ph indicator which changes colour according to the
level of CO2 in the water contained in six microwell plates where algae is placed.
Experiments were also needed to determine the desired amount of pH indicator to add to the
water to accurately determine CO2 levels. (See findings, Tables B- E for results)

Following advice from the research mentor from RMIT, a microwell plate was used
that contained 6 microwells each with 3 millilitres of water. To each microwell, a
micropipette was used to add 0.998mL- (or 100L, microlitres, where a microlitre is
to the millilitre what the millilitre is to the litre) (Accessible: Date accessed: 4/09/2014.) - Of pH indicator. The indicator changed the
colour of the water in each microwell to yellow as expected. Six microwells were
used, to ensure consistency in indicator and water levels.


The microwell plate was then placed into a container that was able to be completely
sealed with a container of the green algae. 600 ml of algae was used. This green algae
was grown especially for this experiment by the research mentor. 600 ml of green
algae was used because that was the limit that fitted into the containers used.


To ensure the effect of the independent variable (the algae) could be scientifically
verified, a control sample was also used. In the control sample, the same type of
microwell plate was placed into a sealed container without the addition of the green
algae and left for the same amount of time.


It was decided that the length of the experiment would be one hour, with
measurements taken at 30 minutes. This length of time was selected because there
was only a 4 hour period of time that could be used for the experiment. Both
containers were sealed and left undisturbed for 30 minutes, after which time the
colour of the pH was used to determine the level of CO2 based on the numerical scale
of 1-14. The samples were left for a further 30 mins and a final colour was
determined and used to measure the final level of CO2 in the water in both the control
and experimental samples.


Another experiment was set up with a control sample and an experimental sample
placed under dark conditions. The same experimental procedure was used, adding
0.998mL of Universal pH indicator to 3mL of water into each mircowell, on the 6microwell plates, placed in a container that could be completely sealed with a
container that held 600mL of Green Algae (in the experimental sample). The control
sample was set up in the same way except, without the addition of Green Algae.


Both samples were left undisturbed for the same amount of time (60 minutes) as the
samples under light conditions.

The following tables illustrate the results from scientific experiments.
Determining the measurement of CO2 using pH indicator
Table A: Changes in pH for water, observed when CO2 blown into water using the Bubbling
pH level in water.

End (6 mins)

Measuring the effectiveness of Algae in reducing CO2 levels

Control Sample under Normal Light Conditions:
Table B: Changes in colour and pH for water in Control sample at 30mins and 60 min
Time Elapsed

Colour change

30 mins
60 mins


pH Level

Experimental Sample under Normal Light Conditions

Table C:

Changes in colour and pH for water in Experimental sample at 30 mins and 60

Time Elapsed
0 mins
30 mins

Colour change
Dark green

pH level

60 mins

Dark green



The length of time before Universal Indicator changed colour was;

- 30 minutes.

Control Sample under Dark Conditions:

Table D: Changes in colour and pH for water in Control sample (under dark conditions) at 30
mins and 60 mins.
Time Elapsed

Colour change

pH level

30 mins



60 mins



Experimental Sample under Dark Conditions:

Table E: Changes in colour and pH levels in water (under dark conditions) for the
Experimental sample, at 30 mins and 60 mins.
Time Elapsed
30 mins
60 mins


Colour change
Dark green
Dark green

Interval of time taken for colour change to occur;

- 30 minutes.

pH level

The results from the Bubbling test (Table A) showed that pH indicator was effective in
measuring the level of CO2 in the water, demonstrated by the change in colour of the pH
indicator after 6 mins. This suggested that pH indicator could accurately determine changes
in CO2 levels in the experimental and control sample.
The results from the Control sample under normal light conditions (Table B) were expected
as there was no transference of CO2 from the air into the water. These results, which didnt
change from 7.4 (at 30 mins), to 7.4 (at 60 mins), determine that, the Green Algae must be
the driver of any CO2 moving from the air, to the water. This is clearly demonstrated via the
differentiating results from the Experimental sample under normal light conditions (Table C),
where the pH level changed from 7.4 (at 0 mins) to 8.1 (at 30 mins).
The results for the Control and Experimental samples under dark conditions were; 7.4 at the
middle (30 mins) and 7.4 at the end of the 60 minutes, for the Control sample (Table D) and
8.1 (30 mins) and 8.1 after 60 minutes, for the Experimental sample (Table E). The results
from experiments under dark conditions would be expected to be different, due to light being
necessary for photosynthesis to occur. However, the Algae were grown in the light and then
placed in the dark, allowing no time in between for the Algae to customise to dark conditions.
Reconstructing the experiment in a longer time frame to allow for variables such as differing
degrees of light, would have allowed the Algae to adjust. Thus, the results may not have been
If the experiments had have gone on for a longer time period the results may have been more
reliable. An example of this is seen in past studies on the effect of CO2 levels on root growth
in plant species found in the literature review, particularly those studies undertaken by
Stolwijk and Thimann, (1957) plants were studied for 7-15 days and a definite relationship
between growth and increasing levels of CO2 was observed.
The findings from this investigation demonstrate that Algae removed CO2 from the air, and
then expelled it into the surrounding environment. The CO2 flowed into the water and pH
indicator contained in the mircowell plate.
These findings are consistent with findings from previous research demonstrating that Algae
absorb CO2 out of the air. The findings also prove that CO2 absorption increases pH, also
demonstrated by Yuan-Kun, Lee, S., Pirt, John (1984), whose results indicated that the pH
value was increased from 6.5 to 7.5 when Algae absorbed CO2.
If more than 600mL of Algae was used, it would be expected that the results would vary, as
the greater volume of Algae used would increase the absorption of CO2. By how much CO2
absorption would be increased is unknown.


The findings from this investigation indicate that Green Algae (C. reinhardtii) is effective at
removing the levels of CO2 from the air after 30 minutes. For this to be a sustainable solution
to address the issue of climate change, the Green Algae would need to be cultivated in high
quantities around the world and grown constantly. Whilst this might seem a global challenge,
there has already been discussion around the possibilities of algal farms being established to
address reduction of CO2 levels in the air. Given the results of this investigation, it would
appear that this solution could be an effective one. An advantage of Algal farming would be
that it does not require agricultural land or clean water, so it does not compete with food
crops for these resources. Current Algae farms include 100 hectares (247 acres) of Algae
growing area, with the ability to absorb 52,000 US tons (tonnes) of CO2 per year. (Global
NRG Ltd Algae reactors Another way to fuel vehicles Available: Date accessed: 11/09/2014).
The action of algae in removing CO2 from the air is achieved through the process of
photosynthesis, which although was not evident in this experiment is much more effective in
daylight hours. If governments were to establish algal farms, the efficiency of these could be
increased by ensuring the algae are kept in daylight conditions for at least 8 hours a day, as
energy from the suns rays is a requirement of Photosynthesis. However, Algae can be grown
24 hours a day under artificial light. (Global NRG Ltd Algae reactors Another way to fuel
vehicles Available: Date accessed: 11/09/2014).
The main purpose of the experiments was to evaluate the effectiveness of the Green Algae in
reducing the levels of CO2 in the air. Although this was achieved there are obviously
limitations with this study and improving on these would provide valuable insight into the
topic. The limitations for this research and the limits of the research methods used were:
Timespan, Environment and Light.
The timespan used to undertake the scientific experiments was too short to effectively
consider all variables, such as; light, amount of Algae that was cultivated and the
environment in which it was grown. A variable that was present in the scientific experiments
undertaken for this project was Light, as sunlight is one of the requirements for
Photosynthesis; more light increases this process, therefore increasing the rate of CO2
absorption by the Algae. The right amount of light is needed for the Algae to be effective in
reducing CO2. Setting up the experiments outside may have decreased the effects of this
limitation on the results. Another variable that may have affected the results of the
experiments was the amount of Algae used as more Algae would absorb higher levels of
CO2; this is evident where Algae naturally grows in large areas, in the ocean as an example.
Finally, the environment that the Algae was grown in for this project may have influenced the
results, as Algae grows best when in an optimum environment with sufficient light and
nutrients. There is a difference between growth rates of marine and freshwater Algae, as the
levels of acidity or alkalinity in salt or fresh water, impacts on the levels of nutrients, or other

chemicals in the water, that can affect wildlife. For this project the Algae was grown in a
laboratory, under artificial light, which may slow growth, therefore result in slower
absorption of CO2, compared what the CO2 absorption may be under natural sunlight.
With a longer time period in which to work on this project, the above limitations may have
been overcome, being able to repeat the experiments again may have also given more reliable
results. Finally, if the experiments had been done at different times of the day the rates of
Photosynthesis may have been significantly different.
Further implications for the findings from this project could be that more Algal farms are
established around the world, which will reduce CO2 levels in the air dramatically. Reducing
the risks posed by Climate Change will be beneficial to society on a global scale.
Suggestions for further research on this topic include researching a range of different Algae
species to measure the effectiveness of each species in reducing CO2 levels and undertaking
experimental research in different environments, for different periods of time and using
varying amounts of Algae.
Research may also occur to work out how Algae might be able to be used as a renewable
energy source in future generations.


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