Biofuel Breakthrough: Seaweed the Fuel of the Future?
When most people think about seaweed, they imagine the floating plant life in the ocean or the paper-thin wrap that holds your California roll together, however within the next ten years you may more commonly think of seaweed as a source of energy. An exciting biofuel breakthrough has been made-pushing algae, corn and sugar to the back burner.
Berkeley labs discovered that by using a form of the nasty bacteria E-coli, it can essentially break down the sugars in seaweed and turn it into ethanol, which is a component of gasoline. So seaweed in theory, may power up your car in the morning. This new discovery has shown a lot of promise for our growing need for an alternative to foreign oil.
According to Berkeley labs, aqua-farmed seaweed is the “world’s lowest cost, most scalable, and sustainable source of sugars for biofuels and renewable chemicals production.”
Luckily, seaweed farming takes up virtually zero land area unlike corn and sugar cane. Coastal ocean waters are plentiful and so that proves a major advantage to the alternative fuel sources of the past. China and Japan have been successfully seaweed farming for centuries, so the method is nothing new. The guardian’s Damien Carrington stated that,
“by using 3% of the worlds coastal waters to grow seaweed would produce 60 billion gallons of ethanol-more than 40% of the fuel burned by US cars and trucks.”
The main selling point of this biofuel is that seaweed is known to grow very fast and without the need for large arable land, this has scientists and researchers drooling of what this could mean for our future. In addition, the energy to cultivate and actually produce the stuff is minimal. Some people may be muttering that big oil companies will do whatever they can to squash this idea or buy the rights to the patent and then rid of it all together. I personally hope that this process of production and research continues and becomes commercially viable. Of course, we can never replace the oil industry, but realistically an alternative like this can do wonders for the world in many ways.
Some of the obstacles that researchers need to get around are the harvesting rate as well as methods of how it can meet consumer demands. Just as with agriculture, seaweed growth will need to be bigger, better, and faster. Scientists are currently working with different techniques to approach all of the issues. In order for “seaweed biofuel” to become a cost effective fuel source, this type of research is necessary for realistically making seaweed a global energy source.
This is all very to new, and all the details have yet to be worked out. The economics of it are still in the works. As of now, the costs are five times higher than they should be to get a reasonable fuel price.
Seaweed as a biofuel is obviously largely in the research and developmental stages. There are several factors to overcome before it can be successfully introduced to the market. Agriculture has been around for tens of thousands of years and this seaweed idea has arguably been around for a mere 30-40 years. It may take a while, but I hope this new discovery takes flight and doesn’t just turn into another great idea that get’s hyped up and ultimately fizzles out.
What are your thoughts on the matter? Is it like a one hit wonder destined to fizzle?
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