A few weeks ago it was announced that an association of Italian biodiesel producers was investigating the potential of seaweed as a non-food crop feedstock for biofuel.
Now, the UK’s Crown Estate is getting in on the act, saying that Scottish seaweed should be investigated as to its potential for creating biogas for using in heating and electricity generation. Although they quite plainly state that more research needs to be done before farming algae, creating biogas from it via anaerobic digestion and then distributing that gas as fuel is commercially viable in Scotland, the Crown Estate says that doing so has several advantages over using terrestrial biomass:Advantages of Marine Biomass
It avoids the problem of switching agricultural land from food to fuel production.
Unlike terrestrial biomass, it is not limited by freshwater supplies.
Seaweed has high conversion efficiencies and rapid conversion rates.
The residues are suitable for use as nutrient supplements for agriculture.
Seaweed farms may increase local biodiversity, absorbing some of the excess nutrients in run off from agricultural lands, which can cause problems such as algal blooms.
More Pilot-Scale Projects Needed
The report (download a full copy of: The potential of marine biomass for anaerobic biogas production) acknowledges that for such a plan to work, that seaweed will have to be cultivated on a large scale, which will require a public acceptance of the idea of a greater area of the seas being farmed.
While culture operations must be subject to their own environmental impact assessment, seaweed farms offer the possibility of increasing local biodiversity as well as removing a proportion of the nutrients which can lead to eutrophication. There is the potential to improve biomass yield and quality through selective plant breeding and for further mechanisation of the culturing process to streamline production and reduce labour costs. Before Scotland can seriously assess the potential of marine biomass there is a need to establish larger (hectare or more) pilot-scale farms both to learn how to manage such systems and to better understand the limits on productivity.
Let’s Make Sure Environmental Sustainability Is Ensured
No doubt seaweed farms could be created and run in a sustainable fashion, and research should be conducted to evaluate the potential of farmed seaweed to make biogas, but let’s get out in front of this one and, from the start, make sure that in the natural enthusiasm that accompanies any new technology or procedure that promises to free us from fossil fuels, that we don’t do additional harm to the environment. I say this not from any specific concern I have about the Crown Estate’s proposal—in fact, I praise it—but only from the standpoint of precaution.
Crown Estate Gets Into Wind Power
Last week it was announced that the Crown Estate was getting into offshore wind power development : Fronting up to half of pre-construction development costs of projects for projects proposed in areas which it controls. The Crown Estate would not own any of these projects, and the monies contributed in pre-construction would be repaid from the electricity these wind farms eventually produce.
More from: The Crown Estate
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