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BIOFUELS FROM THE SEA

June 9, 2008
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Take biofuel crops off the land and grow them at sea

The dream of tackling climate change with biofuels has been tarnished by the rush to produce them on land. Not only are there serious environmental costs, including deforestation, water use, production of greenhouse gases, and energy-efficiency limitations, but there are rising concerns about the effects on the world’s poor. Already the price of food is being driven up as land is taken away from food production, increasing the cost of food and nutrition for those who can least afford it.

It is curious then that, bar a brief mention in a recent paper on sustainable biofuels by the UK-based Royal Society, the potential for biomass production at sea is largely ignored.

The oceans are the largest active carbon sink on the planet, covering more than 70 per cent of its surface area, and are predicted to grow as sea levels rise. Our seas also receive a larger proportion of the world’s sunshine than land does, particularly in the tropical and subtropical belt where land is more scarce….

Until now, seaweed has been valued mainly as food, but also as fertiliser, animal feed, and recently for a growing phycocolloid industry producing algin, agar and carrageenan. But it could also be a major fuel.

Macro-algae (seaweeds) are cultivated at sea, mainly by simply tying them to anchored floating lines. Seaweeds do not require soil, and are already provided with all the water they need, a major advantage over land production of biofuels since water is the most limiting factor for most agricultural expansion, especially with climate change…

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