Bio-foam made from algal bloom
Algae are one of the few species that actually thrive because of global warming, forming a problem of their own. Algae grow fast, but only live for a short time before starting to decay, a process that consumes oxygen from the water. In large quantities, called algal bloom, algae can suffocate the aquatic life. A US based company called Bloom has found a way to harvest the algal bloom and turn it into bio-foam.
Bloom, of which the parent company is Algix that creates bioplastic, does not farm their own algae, because they want to form a solution for the rapidly growing – no pun intended – algae problem. In addition, they fear that genetically-modified strains of algae could leak into the environment and cause even more harm. Therefore, they source their algae in waterways – such as lakes, rivers, and ponds – that are at risk for heavy algal blooms. They currently harvest in Mississippi, Alabama, and throughout China.
A mobile harvester unit pumps up the pond water with algae blooming. The water is mixed with a water-safe coagulant that causes the algae to clump together. These flocks are pushed to the surface by air bubbles, and then skimmed off into a collection tank. After that, the water is filtered and put back in the pond. The algae mass is dewatered and dried in a solar drying process. When the mass is dry, it is turned into flexible foam.
While Bloom is a little vague on the how, they claim their process is safe for fish and other aquatic life.
Despite being based on algae, the bio-foam is not biodegradable – though Bloom says it might be in the future. For now though, they combine the algae with a substance called ethylene vinyl acetate (EVA) that enhances the performance qualities, but is not biodegradable. The bio-foam consists of 15 to 60 per cent of algae mass. Bloom claims also to be able to produce foams with nearly 100 per cent algae content.
Still, the foam has several advantages over other kinds of foam. By harvesting the algae, they keep the ecology of the waterways in balance, use less non-renewable oil, and use GMO- and pesticide-free feedstock. Additionally, the foam has antimicrobial properties, which are solely derived from algae. This antimicrobial component is for 99.99% effective against the growth of odour-causing bacteria. All foams are also hypoallergenic.
Bloom offers eight stock colours, and they produce custom colours for agreed minimum order volumes. Because the algae have a natural greenish colour, they do not offer white at the moment. The foam has a natural odour, but nothing off-putting, as they put it n the website. In the future they may offer an odour-free version. They also have a large variety of densities.
Bloom is not the first to make products out of algae, nor is it the first bio-foam. Earlier, we reported on living ink, made with algae that grow after the ink is applied, and algae used in roofing material. A Dutch company has made a biodegradable “Styrofoam” from organic waste. Still, Bloom’s aspirations are admirable, and show much promise for a sustainable future.
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