Seaweed Seen as Better Biofuel by NUI Galway Scientist

Monday, 23 June 2008

Scientists from the Irish Seaweed Centre at NUI Galway say Ireland could become a key player in the production of biofuel from seaweed. According to Dr. Stefan Kraan, Manager of the Irish Seaweed Centre, "With its rich, sustainable, seaweed resources, Ireland is poised to become an important player in the next generation of biofuel production." Dr. Kraan was speaking at the annual conference of the International Society for Applied Phycology opened this morning at NUI Galway, for which over 400 delegates have registered. Phycology, the scientific study of algae, will be discussed and debated at the event which has attracted engineers, manufacturers, contractors, scientists, researchers, students, economists, industry representatives and policymakers. Seaweed has long been investigated as a potential source of bioethanol, which is typically made from crops such as sugar cane and corn, but technological barriers remain to its commercial use. According to Kraan, "Algae do not have the negative image of terrestrial biomass resources, which are said to be responsible for higher food prices, impacting on water use, biodiversity and destruction of rain forest. This conference allows us to examine the current technologies available for the production of bioethanol from seaweed. We will examine the economic and social aspects of using brown seaweeds for bioethanol production, and views on the feasibility of biofuel production from macroalgae." The keynote address at the conference 'Algae and biofuels: Quo vadis?' was delivered by Professor Michael A. Borowitzka, from Murdoch University, Australia. According to Professor Borowitzka, "Compared to other bioenergy crops (e.g. rapeseed, canola, peanut, oil palm) there are a number of species of algae that have higher areal productivities, higher oil content and that can grow in saline waters. These apparently very favourable properties have generated a frenzy of interest and activities in the field of energy production using algae, both microalgae and seaweeds." He continued, "For biofuel production the algal biomass needs to be produced at a cost of around $US1 or less per kg. In order to achieve this ambitious goal there is the need for year-round reliable high productivity algal culture and all factors (e.g. algae strains, algae culture, harvesting and further downstream processing) need to be optimized and efficiently integrated." Ireland boasts 16 commercially useful seaweed species, with additional species being added as more research is carried out. Ireland's location as off Western Europe, surrounded by clean seas, is a major selling point to the world market. The current uses of seaweeds in Ireland are as foods and food supplements; fertilizers, liquid seaweed extracts, soil conditioners, animal feed supplements, raw material for seaweed polymers (alginates), cosmetics, body-care products, thalassotherapy (sea water and seaweed treatments), medical preparations, biotechnology and biomedicine.
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