The oceans of the world may hold the potential to be the largest farm for biofuels, as a new wave of investment in seaweed fuels breaks onshore.
Seventy percent of the earth’s surface is covered by saltwater, which is the natural habitat for all varieties of seaweed. Without the need for cultivation or fertilization, seaweed for fuel makes a lot of sense. According to the studyAlgae 2020:
[E]xperts from Korea, the Philippines, Norway, the US and Chile agree seaweed grows faster than terrestrial crops, has a high sugar content for conversion to advanced biofuels and ethanol, absorbs more airborne carbon than land-based plants, has no lignin, can be easily harvested compared to microalgae, requires no pretreatment for ethanol production, can be harvested up to six times a year in warm climates.
South Korea has pledged $275 million dollars to develop macro-algae biofuel capacity over the next ten years. They hope to be able to produce 400 million gallons of ethanol from macro-algae, which would replace 13 percent of their fuel demand.
The city of Venice in 2009 launched a 200 million euro initiative to capture and convert algae into 40 MW of electricity to supply half of the city’s demand.
In Scotland, Biomara, along with the Ministry of Energy invested $8 million to develop new strains of microalgae and investigate commercial development of seaweed for commercial scale energy production.
Seaweed, also known a macro-algae, has been a popular fuel source for human bellies for centuries. Many types of sushi are wrapped in seaweed and it is a common delicacy in the Southeast Asian palette.
Drying and burning kelp, a form of seaweed has also been a source of heat energy for marine cultures for centuries. Could seaweed soaked in Gulf oil slick runoff be an even better fuel?