Seaweed could fuel 10% of US transportation needs, say scientists

[USA] “Bringing our scientists and engineers together to develop innovative solutions to important problems is a hallmark of WHOI..”

The case for seaweed as a viable material for biofuel has been strengthened after an ocean research, exploration, and education organisation received $5.7m of funding from a sector of the U.S. Department of Energy.

Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) was granted the money by the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) to for two projects that develop tools and technology to advance the mass production of seaweed for biofuels and bio-based chemicals.

A director of the ARPA-E, Eric Rohlfing, said it made the investment – named the Mariner Programme – so there could be more focus on the technological challenges related to growing and harvesting macroalgae (seaweed) efficiently and cost-effectively.

Mark Abbott, president and director of WHOI.

Mark Abbott, president and director of WHOI, the non-profit hoping to make it a success, said: “Bringing our scientists and engineers together to develop innovative solutions to important problems is a hallmark of WHOI. We’re pleased and honoured to be selected by ARPA-E to work on advancing new sources of renewable energy.”

Primarily used as a food ingredient for both humans and animals in the US, it’s hoped that with further development it can also provide a totally sustainable alternative to fossil fuels, owing to the sea macroalgae being so prevalent in the world’s oceans. Should major processing of seaweed for fuel it could relieve pressure on animal stocks, create jobs and revitalise working waterfronts.

The ARPA-E estimates that in the U.S. combined brown and red seaweed farming could yield about 300 million dry metric tons annually, which when converted to energy could fuel around 10 percent of the nation’s annual transportation needs.

“The Mariner programme addresses a critical challenge that land production systems are unlikely to solve,” said biologist Scott Lindell, who is leading the research effort at WHOI, adding that seaweed farming avoids the growing competition for fertile land, energy intensive fertilisers, and freshwater resources associated with traditional agriculture.

The WHOI team will outfit an unmanned underwater vehicle with acoustic, optical, and environmental sensors to monitor seaweed growth and health, equipment status, and water column properties, such as nutrient content.

 

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