Seaweed farm may fuel the future
Issues that confront biofuel are plentiful and Scotland is trying to find new ways to get over these hurdles.
Prof Mike Cowling, science and research manager at The Crown Estate, said: "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.
There are various current issues with biofuel production and use, which are presently being discussed in the popular media and scientific journals. These include:
- the effect of moderating oil prices
- the "food vs fuel" debate
- carbon emissions levels
- sustainable biofuel production
- deforestation and soil erosion
- impact on water resources
- human rights issues
- poverty reduction potential,
- biofuel prices
- energy balance and efficiency
- centralised versus decentralised production models.
"Heating and transport make up around three quarters of our energy use so it's vital that we find new ways of meeting that demand.
"Extracting energy from seaweed is a particularly efficient and reliable method of producing green energy, and the growing of seaweed could have positive impact on local marine biodiversity."
One key advantage of using seaweed is that it avoids the problems associated with agricultural crop biofuels such as pressure on arable land and fresh water.
Dundee University professor of microbiology Geoffrey Codd has also been promoting the idea of using seaweed and other algae as fuel.
He feels the practice could help revive traditional UK industries such as harvesting seaweed and create viable and sustainable biofuel sources.
The Crown Estate owns almost all of the seabed out to 12 nautical miles and has rights on energy development out to 200 nautical miles.
It recently opened up the Pentland Firth seabed for leasing to developers, with interest shown in creating a massive underwater tidal farm.
There is more and more support for this idea of using seaweed and algae, but putting it into practice may prove to be more difficult.
There's a famous movie scene where a man comes up to the graduate and says one word that supposedly holds the key to the future. At UGA's Bioconversion Center that word is: "Algae" pronounces Adolphson, "green algae. People call it pond scum. Stuff that you see growing on all these ponds around here could be an extremely valuable fuel for us uh in the near future."
Ryan Adolphson's team is working on getting bio-fuel from algae. And the research is promising.
"It's very small," Adolphson explains, "but there's a huge amount of biomass per acre, if you will, for a pond. Moreso than any other crop that we have."
Corn yields 18 gallons of bio-fuel per acre. Algae yields 5,000 to 15,000 gallons per acre.