Seaweeds Could be a Source of Next-Gen Biofuels


Photo: Wikipedia, CC
Offshore Wind Farms Might be Best Place to Grow Seaweed 'Farms'
Biofuels made with food crops are generally a bad idea. By competing with food production for land, they increase the price of many commodities which are already expensive for the poorest people on Earth. This is so bad that the Association of American Physicians and Surgeons (AAPS) has released a warning that U.S. and European policy to increase the production of biofuels could lead to almost 200,000 deaths in poorer countries. So if we're going to make biofuels, they better be made from non-food sources of biomass... So how about seaweeds?
Photo: Wikipedia, CC
No Need for Fertile Land or Freshwater
Jessica Marshall at Discovery News writes:

"They grow very fast," added Yannick Lerat of the Technical Research Center on Seaweed in Pleubian, France. "The amount of organic matter you can produce per year per surface is about 10 times higher than you can find in croplands without GM organisms." [...]

As with land plants, the carbohydrates in the tissues of seaweed can be converted in various ways to fuels. They can be burned via a process known as pyrolysis to make oil; fermented with bacteria into ethanol; or converted into methane via anaerobic digestion.

Because seaweed is buoyed by water, it does not need to make the woody compound lignin to help it stand up against gravity, like land plants do in growing their stalks and trunks.

Gnarly lignin resists degradation, a key obstacle in bringing terrestrial biofuels made from biomass like corn stalks or tree crops to market. This makes seaweed easier to convert to fuels, researchers said.

While most terrestrial transportation would be greener if electrified (the internal combustion engine just wastes too much energy as heat compared to electric motors), biofuels could be used for air travel, where energy density is crucial and liquid fuels are likely to reign supreme for a very long time. Algae and seaweeds could provide that fuel in a carbon neutral way.

See also: U.S. Doctors Say Biofuels Could Kill 192,000+ Per Year in Developing Countries

Via our colleagues at Discovery News
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