Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Seaweed- a more ethical fuel?

I like me my sushi! I am a fan of not only the seaweed wrapped rolls but sashimi too, and pretty much anything else that can be wrangled out of the ocean. But I came across a few articles that got me thinking about one of my favorite cuisines in a new light. From what I read, I started to think that perhaps instead of dipping my fare in soy sauce, I might be able to use that seaweed as a more ethical energy source in the way of fuel! What? Yes, I did a double read too, but it turns out this salty green weed is more than a perfect casing to sticky rice.

It turns out that seaweed can be turned into a biofuel known as biobutanol. There are few different companies and teams of scientists looking into how we can tap into an algae based fuel source, including Bio Architecture Lab, E.I. du Pont de Nemours and Co., and Seambiotic Ltd. From what I gather there are a some varying means that they are going about doing this. The team at Seambiotit Ltd. is growing their seaweed from the carbon gas that is already being emitted from their power plants. When the carbon would normally be released into the environment as pollution, it is instead funneled into the pools where this seaweed is growing. From there, the seaweed is then turned into fuel. So in essence the seaweed has a double effect at reducing wastes and working to combat global warming.

Not only does the seaweed help to extract a portion of the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants as it grows but then it can later be used as an alternate fuel source. So then Seambiotic then has pools that are just off of the smokestacks of their power plants, and where the seaweed would normally grow at a particular rate naturally in the ocean, when it is instead supplied with the enormous amounts of carbon dioxide run off it then grows up to one million times more concentrated in the water.

Okay, so we've covered how it helps to negate some of the harmful effects of power plants but how is it then utilized as a fuel source itself? The folks working with the Bio Architecture Lab team are working off of the microbes found in the seaweed that is grown with the aide of the carbon gases. This microbe is able to extract the sugar found in the seaweed and then creates ethanol. The researchers are still perfecting the means to best get these microbes to make biobutanol. And it appears from reports back from the Seambiotit Ltd. people that they have found a way to make one liter of fuel from five kilograms of their produced seaweed.

Finding a way to run our cars and other devices off of seaweed is still under production, but I think this is one example of putting creativity and ingenuity to good use. I like that the seaweed has the double pronged effect in that it not only helps offset wastes while it is nurtured but then goes one step further to replace other forms of pollutant fuels as well. Creating a way to replace past fuels with more ethical energy supplies is one of the keys in helping to save our planet and combat global warming and it would be fun to see something as simple as seaweed unlock the answer. How ironic it would be if the very solution to saving the Earth came right out of the sea!

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