Seaweed is one of the fastest-growing plants on earth. It stretches from the seafloor to the surface at an astonishing rate of two to three feet a day. And scientists believe that someday this quick-growing resource could provide a significant source of power.
The US Department of Energy (DOE) has recently invested in seaweed-to-fuel research. Kelp can be converted to biofuel through a high-temperature, high-pressure conversion process called thermochemical liquefaction. Last week, the agency offered $22 million in funding through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) for 18 different macroalgae projects as part of the Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program.
The DOE estimates that the US could produce enough macroalgae to meet about 10% of the nation’s annual energy needs for transportation. Therefore, it explains, it is actively exploring the concept of seaweed production in order to support US energy security.
“Macroalgae can be utilized as a feedstock for domestic transportation fuels, chemicals, and other commercial products without competing with food crops for land and water,” the agency indicated in a press release.
Today most of the domestic biomass produced for electricity generation takes place on land. But researchers feel that open-ocean biomass production would free up valuable real estate while providing a clean resource. But first, new cultivation technologies and methods are needed to significantly increase production efficiency.
“Achieving this heightened productivity requires a technology-driven approach focusing on transformative, systems-level improvements and engineering, including advanced research in farm design and autonomous operation.” By funding programs such as these, the DOE hopes to help scientists achieve the scale, cost, and efficiency needed for an impactful seaweed-to-fuels process.
What are your impressions? Do you think that in the future microalgae could prove a cost-effective source of biofuel?