Canadian and French researchers are hoping a joint research project will show the alternate uses for algae, including using microalgae to limit greenhouse gas emissions.
The new study was announced by Prime Minister Stephen Harper and French Prime Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault last week.
The project will allow researchers from the two countries to spend the next two years studying microalgae with the goal of determining how fast it can grow and how effectively it can absorb greenhouse gases found in typical smokestacks, similar to the way a conventional scrubber works.
Thierry Chopin, a biologist at the University of New Brunswick in Saint John, has been growing seaweed, which is considered a macroalgae, for more than a decade at an aquaculture site in the Bay of Fundy.
Chopin, who is not participating in the international research initiative, said the project is based on a simple principle.
"Because like all algae they absorb nitrogen, they absorb phosphorus to grow and also they capture CO2. So that's where the greenhouse gas emissions come into picture, is absorbing CO2 to release oxygen," he said.
Chopin has used algae in cosmetics, fish food and is looking at turning it into methane as a source of energy.
The National Research Council of Canada will officially partner with France’s Commissariat à l'énergie atomique et aux énergies alternatives.
A federal background document said the project will "ultimately drive near-term applications of new technologies to significantly reduce greenhouse gas emissions from industrial sites."
But there could also be long-term implications for this upcoming research.
Michael Reith, a researcher with the National Research Council, said the project could also point to other uses for algae in the future.
"There's also some potential, though this is probably a little further down the road, the algae that are grown can be harvested and we can extract things like oils from them which can then be converted into biofuel," he said.