Is seaweed the future of alternative energy
sources like biofuel?
In the age of ever-spiraling gasoline prices and with green technology still in its
infancy, a number of scientists are actively searching for clean, renewable sources of
energy alternatives to fossil fuel.
Much of the push to create renewable fuel sources has gone toward the production
of bioethanol,http://www.naturalnews.comthat is driving up the cost of feeding the
world. But now, Israeli researchers have begunturning to the sea for answers,
specifically, using common seaweed as a primary source of bioethanol production.
Unlike corn and other land-grown commodities, harvesting seaweed doesn't damage
ecosystems and does not tie up valuable acres of land. Furthermore, say researchers,
seaweed can be grown more quickly than land-based crops, and can be grown
unobtrusively along out-of-the-way coastlines where it can be accessed and
harvested easily. In addition, notes Prof. Avigdor Abelson ofTel Aviv
University'sDepartment of Zoologyand the newRenewable Energy Center, seaweed is
capable of clearing the waters of excess damaging nutrients caused by human waste
or aquaculture, both of which disturb marine life.
Eliminating harmful production
Abelson and his team of researchers making bioethanol from seaweed is far less
harsh on the environment, and actually could prove to be beneficial not only to the
environment but to sea life.
"While biomasses grown on land have the potential to inflict damage on the
environment, the researchers believe that producing biofuel from seaweed-based
sources could even solve problems that already exist within the marine
environment," says aTel Aviv Universityreport on the concept.
"Many coastal regions, including the Red Sea in the south of Israel, have suffered
from eutrophication -- pollution caused by human waste and fish farming, which
leads to excessive amounts of nutrients and detrimental algae, ultimately harming
endangered coral reefs," the report said. "Encouraging the growth of seaweed for
eventual conversion into biofuel could solve these environmental problems."
Currently, Abelson's research team is working to increase carbohydrate and sugar
contents of seaweed beds, in order to boost the fermentation process which will
increase bioethanol production.
Body of work
The concept of turning seaweed into bioethanol has been examined for several years
now. In 2009, research by theScottish Association for Marine Science, in a study
commissioned byThe Crown Estate, which manages land holdings for the British
crown, found that seaweed could be a valuable source of biofuels that does not
compete with food for land or require fresh water to grow.
"Given Scotland's rugged western coastline and island groups, and relatively clean
seas, it is sensible to examine the farming of seaweeds and sustainable harvesting of
natural supplies as a source of energy, to heat our homes and fuel our vehicles," said
Mike Cowling, science and research manager forThe Crown Estate.
Scientists have said that, up to now, the problem with utilizing seaweed as a major
biofuel alternative "has been that standard microbes cannot readily metabolize its
primary sugar constituent, known as alginate,"says a January report inDiscovery
News. "Two other sugars found in seaweed ferment readily, but without conversion
of the alginate, biofuel production from seaweed is simply too inefficient, and thus
too expensive, to ever compete seriously with petroleum-based fuels."
But scientists working on the problem may have found a breakthrough. Adam
Wargacki ofBio Architecture Labin Berkeley, Calif., and his colleagues have managed
to make seaweed more palatable. They have managed to engineer "a new form of E.
coli bacteria that can digest all the sugars found in brown seaweed, including
alginate," said the report.