Major €14 million European Initiative to Develop the Potential of Seaweed as Biofuel

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

Researchers at NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute are involved in a major €14 million European initiative to develop the potential of algae as a source of sustainable energy.

As a partner in the project, NUI Galway is responsible for the initial step of producing some of the biomass required for conversion to biofuel. This will be accomplished by cultivating macroalgae (seaweed) biomass at sea in a one-hectare pilot facility.

Currently, algal bioenergy technologies are immature, but rapid advances are being made in the field. NUI Galway’s part of the ‘EnAlgae’ project is valued at almost €1.2 million, over the next four years.

The project will focus on the cultivation of some of Ireland’s native kelp species (large brown seaweeds, commonly seen cast up on the beach after a storm). Growth of the seaweed crop occurs in two phases, the first phase of which is being carried out at the Ryan Institute’s Carna Research Station, Co. Galway.

Dr Maeve Edwards, a research scientist at the Ryan Institute’s Carna facility, explains: “In our facilities here, microscopic stages of the algae are cultured and sprayed onto ropes. Once the seaweed has been ‘seeded’ onto hundreds of metres of rope, they are deployed at sea in the one-hectare experimental plot in Ventry Harbour, Co. Kerry.”

Seaweed will also be cultivated in Northern Ireland (by Queen’s University Belfast) and Brittany, France (by Centre d’Etude et de Valorisation des Algues, CEVA). NUI Galway will coordinate the cultivation efforts between all three institutions.

Professor Colin Brown, Director of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, commented: “Ireland and the European Union recognise the need to reduce our dependence on dwindling petroleum stocks and are promoting the use of biofuels. I am delighted to see that bright young researchers in the Ryan Institute have spotted the opportunity to engage in international and innovative research into a source of biomass - in this case, seaweed - whose conversion to biofuels could help in the transformation of the transport sector.”

The four-year transnational Energetic Algae - or EnAlgae - project, led by Swansea University in Wales, is a strategic initiative funded by the INTERREG IVB North West Europe Programme via the European Regional Development Fund, together with a range of co-sponsors.

EnAlgae involves 19 Partners and 13 Observers across eight EU member states; France, Belgium, UK, Germany, Ireland, Netherlands, Switzerland, and Luxembourg, and aims to reduce CO2 emissions and dependency on unsustainable energy sources, through the accelerated development and deployment of algal-based biomass and bioenergy technologies.

The project’s manager Dr Robin Shields, Director of the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (CSAR) at Swansea University’s College of Science, said: “Thanks to close transnational cooperation, EnAlgae partners and stakeholders will gain access to those sustainable technologies most suited to their local operating conditions. As project lead partner, Swansea University is delighted to extend its industry-focused research on algal bioremediation and biorefinery technologies, in partnership with acknowledged experts from across North West Europe.”

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Olltionscnamh Eorpach €14m chun na féidearthachtaí a bhaineann le Feamainn mar Bhithbhreosla a fhorbairt

Tá taighdeoirí in Institiúid Uí Riain in OÉ Gaillimh ag obair ar olltionscnamh Eorpach, ar fiú €14 milliún é, chun forbairt a dhéanamh ar algaí mar fhoinse fuinnimh in-athnuaite.

Mar chomhpháirtí sa tionscadal, tá freagracht ar OÉ Gaillimh as an gcéad chéim a bhaineann le cuid den bhithmhais a tháirgeadh atá ag teastáil le tiontú go bithbhreosla. Déanfar é seo trí bhithmhais mhacralga (feamainn) a shaothrú san fharraige i saoráid phíolótach aon heicteár.

Faoi láthair, tá teicneolaíochtaí bithfhuinnimh algaigh neamhaibí, ach táthar ag déanamh an-dul chun cinn sa réimse. Sna ceithre bliana atá le teacht, is fiú beagnach €1.2 milliún an pháirt atá ag OÉ Gaillimh sa tionscadal ‘EnAlgae’. 

Díreoidh an tionscadal ar chuid de speiceas nádúrtha ceilpe na hÉireann (feamainn mhór dhonn, a fheictear caite ar thránna go minic i ndiaidh stoirme) a shaothrú. Fásann feamainn in dhá chéim, tá an chéad chéim ar siúl i Stáisiún Taighde Institiúid Uí Riain i gCarna, Co. na Gaillimhe.

Deir an Dr Maeve Edwards, eolaí taighde i saoráid Institiúid Mháirtín Uí Riain i gCarna: “Inár saoráid anseo, saothraítear céimeanna micreascópacha de na halgaí agus spraeáiltear ar théada iad. Nuair a bhíonn an fheamainn ‘síolaithe’ ar na céadta méadar téide, forbraíonn siad san fharraige sa tsaoráid thurgnamhach aon heicteár i gCuan Fhionntrá, Co. Chiarraí.”

Saothrófar feamainn i dTuaisceart Éireann chomh maith (faoi stiúir Ollscoil na Ríona, Béal Feirste) agus sa Bhriotáin, an Fhrainc (faoi stiúir Centre d’Etude et de Valorisation des Algues, CEVA). Déanfaidh OÉ Gaillimh comhordú ar na hiarrachtaí saothraithe idir na trí institiúid.

Deir an tOllamh Colin Brown, Stiúrthóir Institiúid Uí Riain, OÉ Gaillimh: “Aithníonn Éire agus an tAontas Eorpach an gá atá ann gan a bheith ag brath an oiread ar na stoic pheitriliam atá ag laghdú de shíor agus tá siad ag cur úsáid bithbhreoslaí chun cinn. Tá an-áthas orm a fheiceáil gur thug taighdeoirí óga éirimiúla in Institiúid Uí Riain faoi deara an deis le bheith páirteach i dtaighde idirnáisiúnta agus nuálaíoch ar fhoinse bithmhaise – sa chás seo, feamainn – má athraítear feamainn go bithbhreosla d’fhéadfaí athrú ó bhonn a dhéanamh ar an earnáil iompair.

Is tionscnamh straitéiseach maoinithe ag Clár Iar-Thuaisceart na hEorpa INTERREG IVB trí Chiste Forbraíochta Réigiúnaí na hEorpa, chomh maith le réimse comhurraitheoirí é Energetic AlgaeEnAlgae. Is é Ollscoil Swansea sa Bhreatain Bheag atá mar cheann feadhna ar an tionscadal ceithre bliana trasnáisiúnta seo.

Tá baint ag 19 gComhpháirtí agus 13 Bhreathnóir as ocht mballstát AE leis an tionscadal; an Fhrainc, an Bheilg, an Ríocht Aontaithe, an Ghearmáin, Éire, an Ísiltír, an Eilvéis, agus Lucsamburg. Tá sé mar aidhm ag an tionscadal astaíochtaí CO2 agus spleáchas ar fhoinsí fuinnimh in-athnuaite a laghdú, trí bhithmhais algaí agus trí theicneolaíochtaí bithfhuinnimh a fhorbairt agus a úsáid gan mhoill.

Deir bainisteoir an tionscadail, an Dr Robin Shields, an Stiúrthóir, the Centre for Sustainable Aquatic Research (CSAR), i gColáiste na hEolaíochta in Ollscoil Swansea: “A bhuíochas le comhoibriú trasnáisiúnta, beidh teacht ag comhpháirtithe agus ag páirtithe leasmhara EnAlgae ar na teicneolaíochtaí inmharthana is mó a fheileann dá gcoinníollacha áitiúla féin. Mar phríomhpháirtí an tionscadail, tá an-áthas orainn in Ollscoil Swansea ár dtaighde, atá dírithe ar an tionscal, ar theicneolaíochtaí bithleigheasacháin agus bithscaglainne algaí a leathnú, i gcomhpháirt le saineolaithe aitheanta ó Iar-Thuaisceart na hEorpa.”

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Author: Marketing and Communications Office, NUI Galway
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