Economic Importance of Algae: Food Industry, Chemical Industry, Agriculture, Medicine

Economic Importance of Algae Overview

Algae is a photosynthetic, eukaryotic marine organism. Their size ranges from unicellular microalgae to giant kelp. Algae are characterized by their lack of flowers, formal roots, leaves, or even stems. 

They can grow anywhere such as in the dirt or on rocks, marine water, freshwater, etc. Algae are variable in shapes, sizes, and colors.


There are several economic Importance of algae such as they are used as a food source, a fodder, in fish farming, as a fertilizer and they also used in medical industries. 

1. Economic Importance of Algae in Food

A. As a Human Food

  • Algae are used as a food. Most of the European countries such as  Ireland, Scotland, France, Germany, Norway, and Sweden considered algae an important source of nourishment.
  • Algae are also used as the main ingredients in some local dishes in China and Japan. In those countries, algae has become an important part of salad, accompanying meat in a fried dish, as a topping on oatmeal, or even in liquid form as an extract in a nutritious smoothie.
  • Algae is considered as a healthy food because of its nutrient values such as carbohydrates, fats, proteins, and vitamins A, B, C, and E. Algae also contains minerals such as iron, potassium, magnesium, calcium, manganese, and zinc.
  • Many dairy products such as milk, ice cream, cheese, whipped topping, as well as syrup, icing, fruit juice, etc. uses algae as an ingredient.

Names of Algal Which are used as Foods

(a). Chlorella

  • Chlorella get popularity after use in space research center and nuclear submarine to generate oxygen.
  • It is also famous for it’s nutrient value. It contains 30% carbohydrate, 30% protein, 15% lipids, and also vitamin B and other nutrients. Which are essential for human beings as well as animals.

(b). Laminaria

  • It has 57% carbohydrate and is mostly used to prepare a popular dish known as  ‘Kombu’.

(c). Chondrus

  • It is an Irish moss and is cooked with milk and prepared in a popular dish known as blancmanges.

(d). Porphyria

  • It is a seaweed of Rhodophyceae which contains 45% carbohydrate, 35% protein, and vitamin B.
  • It is used to prepare a popular dish in japan named ‘Asakusa-Nori’(Porphyra tenera).

(e) Spirulina

  • Spirulina is a blue-green algae that contains 60% protein, vitamin, and unsaturated fatty acid.
  • In India Spirulina is available as a tablet.

(f). Spirogyra

  • In south India, it is used to prepare a popular dish known as green laver.
  • Spirogyra is commercially cultivated in Japan, Korea, and Taiwan, such as Ise Bay.

(g). Ulva

  • In Japan, it is used as a salad.

(h). Nostoc

  • In China, nostoc is used to prepare soup by boiling it.

(i). Monostroma

  • It is a genus of marine green algae (seaweed), in Japan it is used to prepare a common food known as ‘Aonori’.

B. As an animal food or Fooder

  • Many countries use seaweeds as fodder such as Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Scotland, America, China, and New-Zealand.
  • Rhodymenia palmate is known as  ‘Sheep’s weed’ in Norway since sheep are very fond of this particular alga.
  • Some examples of algal food are Laminaria saccharine, Ascophyllum sp., Sargassum sp., and Fucus sp., all of these are equally liked by the catties.

2. Economic Importance of Algae in Industries

In industries, Algae is used to develop many commercial products such as;

(a) Agar-Agar

  • Source
    • It is obtained from different species of red-algae such as Gelidium corneum, G. cartilageneum, Gracilaria lichenoides, and species of Chondrus, Gigartina, Furcellaria, Phyllophora, Pterocladia, Ahnfeldtia and Gampylaephora 
  • Chemical nature
    • It is composed of two different polysaccharides such as agarose and agaropectin.
    • It is soluble in hot water and form solid on cooling the melted agar below to 39 degrees C.
  • Uses
    • Food: It is used to produce jams, jelly, cheese, etc.
    • Pharmaceutical: It is used a tactic pills.
    • Cosmetic: it is used in cosmetics like lotions.
    • Scientific laboratories: In laboratories, it is used as a solidifying agent.

(b) Carrageenan

  • Source
    • It is extracted from red edible seaweeds.
  • Chemical nature
    • It is a high-molecular-weight polysaccharides which is composed of repeating galactose units and 3,6 anhydrogalactose (3,6-AG), both sulfated and nonsulfated.
    • All the units are linked by alternating α-1,3 and β-1,4 glycosidic linkages.
    • Commercially there are three types of carrageenan such as Kappa, Iota, Lambda.
  • Uses
    • Food: It is used in Desserts, carrageen, ice cream, cream, milkshakes, yogurts, salad dressings, sweetened condensed milks, etc.
    • Cosmetic: It is used in Shampoo and cosmetic creams to make them thickener.
    • Biotechnology: it is used to immobilize cells and enzymes.
    • Pharmaceuticals: It is used as an inactive excipient in pills and tablets

(c) Alginate

  • Source
    • It is obtained from the cell walls of brown algae.
  • Chemical nature
    • It is also known as Alginic acid which is a linear copolymer with homopolymeric blocks of (1-4)-linked β-D-mannuronate (M) and its C-5 epimer α-L-guluronate (G) residues, respectively, covalently linked together in different sequences or blocks.
  • Uses
    • Thickener: In food industries, it is used to prepare sauce, soup, cream, etc.
    • Glittering Agent: It is used in the production of cosmetic powders, paints, icecream, etc.
    • Emulsification: It is used in polish, emulsion prints, etc.
    • It is also used in waterproofing and fireproofing fabrics.
    • It used in the production of paper and textiles.
    • In the pharmaceutical industry, it is used in the production of different medicines such as Gaviscon.

(d) Diatomite

  • Source
    • After the death of diatom cells, the outer covering accumulated in the bottom of the water. The deposits particles are called diatomaceous earth or diatomite.
  • Uses
    • Explosives: It is used with nitroglycerin as an Explosive. This mixture is known as guhr dynamite.
    • Filtration: In industry, it is used to filter beer, wine, syrups, sugar, and honey.
    • Abrasive: It is used in toothpaste and in metal polishes, as well as in some facial scrubs.
    • Pest control: It is also used as an insecticide.
    • Thermal: It is used as a thermal barrier in several fire-resistant products such as AGA cookers.
    • Other uses: It is also used in Construction, Agriculture, and as Catalyst support.

(e) Funor:

  • Source: 
    • It is a type of glue obtained from Gloiopeltis furcata
  • Uses
    • It is used as a sizing agent in the paper and textile industry.
    • In cosmetic industry, it is used for the curling hair and preparation of dying.

3. Economic Importance of Algae in Agriculture

Algae used as a fertilizer in soil to develop crops;

(a) Biofertilizer

  • Members of Cyanophyceae such as nostoc, Anabaena, etc. can fix atmospheric nitrogen.
  • Algae biomass accumulates organic metals in soil.
  • Algae releases growth chromatic substances such as indol, acetic acid, butyric acid, etc. which stimulate the growth of plant.
  • They also release some free amino acids in the soil.
  • They provide pesticidal and fungicidal activity.

(b) Mineral Accumulation

  • Mineral like Cu, Co, Cr, Fe, Zn, etc. are present in a high amount in seaweed, therefore seaweeds are used as stock feed.
  • The polisiphonic are a rich source of bromine.
  • Various brown algae such as ecklonia, eisenia, laminaria, etc are the rich source of iodine.
  • Soda and potash are present in a high amount in brown algae. Thus those algae are used in the manufacturing of alum, glass wears, and soap.

(c) Used in the production of Biofield

H2 production is an important area of biotech for the production of non-conventional mg. Different types of algae like Chlamydomonas, etc are used for the production of biohydrogen

4. Economic Importance of Algae in Medicine

  • Antibacterial agent Chlorellin is extracted from  Chlorella. This antibacterial agent is used to control coliforms and other related intestinal bacteria.
  • Alaria helps in strengthening the stomach and restoring the appetite after sickness.
  • Alginates is also used in the medicine industry for its haemostatic nature.
  • The fucoidan and sodium lamanarin sulphate used as a ‘blood anticoagulant’.
  • Digenia simplex, a Rhodophycean algae help in production of antihelmnitic drug.
  • Extracts from Rhodomela larix and Ascophyllum nodosum are used to control both gram positive and gram negative bacteria.
  • There are present several algae which contain antibiotic or antibacterial properties such as Halidrys, Pelvetia, Laminaria, Polysiphonia, Nitzschia and Hapalosiphon.

5. Importance of algae in Environment 

(a) Sewage Disposal

  • Sewage Disposal can be done by both physical and biological methods. The biological method is a less expensive and easy way to dispose of sewage. The biological method is accomplished by the partnership of legend bacteria.
  • In sewage water, aerobic bacteria produce simple inorganic substances by breaking down the complex organic substrates. These simple inorganic compounds are used up by the photosynthetic algae. As a result, those receive the necessary oxygen for their activity.
  • These photosynthetic algae also extract the ammonia from ammoniacal wastes and build up their protein.
  • Algae also increases the alkalinity of water by utilizing the minerals and carbon dioxide as a result it decreases the percentage of bacteria in water.
  • Algae also decreases the percentage of bacteria in sewage water by producing antibacterial substances or extracellular substances, especially Chlorella.
Economic Importance of Algae

(b) Other Importance

  • Photosynthetic algae produces oxygen which is important for animals.
  • Some algae help in the conversation of rocks to soil.

Further Reading

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