Burn This: Biofuel Farmed From Seaweed

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This just in….Seaweed isn’t just for getting tangled in anymore.

According to a new report, this common, seemingly inexhaustible resource may be one, partial but important, answer to the impending decline in fossil fuel supplies.

You heard that right. A report published last week in the leading journal Science details how a team at the Bio Architecture Lab in Berkeley, California, modified the common gut bacteria E. Coli to take the smelly, salty sea plant and…produce ethanol.

The potential of this new-found energy source is vast, with some scientists predicting that global aquatic biomass could in theory provide the world’s energy needs many times over. The United States, with its enormous coastline, is in a particularly good position to develop seaweed as a low-carbon fuel alternative.

What makes seaweed special, besides its charms to small children frolicking in the surf, is that when you compare it to land-based biofuels such as corn and sugar cane, it can produce up to four times as much ethanol per unit.

Another attraction is that it renders irrelevant the conventional ‘food-versus-fuel’ debate, in which the use of arable land to produce biofuel has been identified as both a cause of skyrocketing food prices and of extensive environmental damage.

So, this seaweed business is popping good—a “ground-breaking achievement,” in the words of Yong-Su Jin of the Institute for Genomic Biology at the University of Illinois.

But, he warns, “We still face a huge technical gap for large-scale cultivation.” Costs would have to come down five-fold before this process could become commercially competitive with ordinary fossil fuels, though economies of scale should kick in as production ramps up. Another factor to consider is how best to ensure a proper ecological balance in areas with large-scale seaweed farming.

United States Exclusive Economic Zone

Even so, given our huge energy needs, seaweed could never realistically replace fossil fuels as our primary fuel source. However, if pilot projects already underway in the U.K. and in development off the coast of Chile prove successful, seaweed could well be a much needed stepping stone toward a multi-sourced sustainable energy economy.

Link: http://www.sciencemag.org/content/335/6066/308

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0 responses to “Burn This: Biofuel Farmed From Seaweed”

  1. Archie Type says:

    At 4x it is hardly competitive with seaweed’s smaller cousin, algae, which can attain 30 – 300 times acre/year efficiencies, also without infringing on agriculture (some also can be grown in the ocean).  Oil isn’t dead dinosaurs, it’s dead algae, and there are 10 million types, growing everywhere on earth.  Also, it sequesters CO2. (as does seaweed). So though the seaweed thing is great (and you gotta love that some other organism is breaking it down), algae is even better.

  2. 88roro11 says:

    just make sea weed farms… and from the way it seems the sea weed just digested in to ethanol…

  3. Erad67 says:

    “when you compare it to land-based biofuels such as corn and sugar cane,
    it can produce up to four times as much ethanol per unit.”
    — Given the amazingly BAD ratio of ethanol produced per X amount of corn, nearly everything that grows can be used to produce more ethanol.  Even kudzu.  Look it up.

  4. Sadanand says:

    *Another attraction is that it renders irrelevant the conventional
    ‘food-versus-fuel’ debate, in which the use of arable land to produce
    biofuel has been identified as both a cause of skyrocketing food prices
    and of extensive environmental damage.
    So, this seaweed business is popping good—a “ground-breaking
    achievement,” in the words of Yong-Su Jin of the Institute for Genomic
    Biology at the University of Illinois*. 

    The conventional food-versus-fuel* debate look irrelevant in the West, but in the east seaweeds have been in the diets of people for long. Indonesia ahrvested 3 million tonnes at the beginning of 2011, and hopes to 12 million tonnes by the end 2012. There are no free lunches in nature. Laws of Thermodynamics just cannot be violated.

    • K. Perez says:

      I am thinking they are not eating it once it turns all red and kind of dried out, are they? Just a thought.

  5. Robmax says:

     Oh isn’t that nice, all flying little fuzzy clouds of politically  correct  energy. Perfect for the toons, ivory tower chattering class and the green cool-aid slurping drones of no growth produce nothing of value that anybody wants. 

    • blueskybigstar says:

      So says the shill for the oil industry.

    • Soularddave says:

       There you go again, being another nattering nabob of negativity, instead of suggesting how or why the idea should be improved or scuttled. This sounds exactly like a sock puppet working for the oilygarchs – or maybe someone just got of bed on the wrong side?

       I read this article and saw tings wrong with it, but tried to figure ways around possible problems. I see how extra seaweed might help habitat for incubating sea creatures, slow destructive surf and build beaches. The biomass can be processed in many ways to produce many products. I wonder if it wouldn’t reverse some of the damage in “dead areas” of the ocean.

        Think positive, man, we’re in a mess, and we’ve GOT TO start coming up with ideas. Read this and use it to create something positive – or just go on to something else that you like more.

  6. jimmmmmy says:

    there is already a land grown algae from which bio- diesel can be produced. but so what, people generally hate change,especially when encouraged by the oilygarchs,who work  hard through there lobbyists,lawyers, and accountants, to suppress alternate fuel  marketabilty. remember the electric car of the 1970s? 

  7. $29180509 says:

    Why is it that environmentalists are always the bearers of bad tidings?

    The coastlines of North America, and every other continent, are already in use by other species: fish, crustaceans, sea otters, shore birds, bivalves, all manner of living beings.

    Are we to set in motion another wave of extinction in order that one species can continue its profligate ways?

    Not In My Back yard!

    • Russ Baker says:

      I dont think the author (nor the researchers) are proposing turning every inch of seashore into a seaweed factory. Note the line “Another factor to consider is how best to ensure a proper ecological balance in areas with large-scale seaweed farming.’ Growing and harvesting seaweed in a sensible manner does not necessarily need to set off a wave of extinction. Only taking away the existing seaweed from sea life dependent on it would do that, it seems. But you could start your own seaweed farm — see http://www.fao.org/docrep/field/003/AC287E/AC287E02.htm . Seaweed does all kinds of good things, including reducing acidification of the ocean.
      Anyway, the idea here is to generate serious discussion and consideration of new ideas. So, onward!