Diatoms – the jewels of the ocean

Diatoms are unicellular microscopic algae, with cell walls consisting of silicon dioxide. The cell wall has a very specific pattern of tiny pores, allowing exchange of nutrients and waste products. Each pattern is species specific.

Fossils indicate that diatoms have existed for at least 200 million years. The number of diatom species is estimated to around 20 000 – 2 000 000. New species are continuously identified and described.

Important in the ecosystem

20-25% of the oxygen that we breathe comes from diatoms. Diatoms form the basis of the food web and are eaten by everything from microscopic ciliates to large whales.

Found almost everywhere

Diatoms can be found everywhere where there is moisture and some available light: in the ocean, on the seabed, in lakes, in and on ice – even on cave walls!

Physiology

Diatoms photosynthesize, but they are also able to uptake small organic molecules. Thus, they can survive in darkness without forming resting stages. Diatoms contain chlorophyll a and c and, in addition, different carotenoids such as fucoxanthin, which give them a brownish colour. They store energy in the form of oil (lipids) and a carbohydrate called chrysolaminarin.

Algae at our service

The frustules of the algae have one to three layers of nanopores, which can be used in several industrial applications. This frustule material can be used to increase the efficiency of solar panels due to the structure’s light manipulating and trapping properties. The structure also blocks block UV light efficiently, which can be utilized in e.g. sunscreens and plastics. Due to the material’s nanoporosity it also takes up and releases chemical substances efficiently which is useful in many different applications. The oil produced by diatoms is excellent for fish feed or even human food supplements due to the polyunsaturated fatty acid content.

When diatoms grow (increase in number), they capture carbon dioxide, nitrogen and phosphorous. Thus our algae cultures are a natural greenhouse gas trap and waste water treatment. Each ton of our material traps 12 ton carbon dioxide and returns 3,5 ton nitrogen and 0,7 ton phosphorus from wastewater into the food value chain annually.