Last week Scotland’s Energy Minister launched the Biomara research project to study the feasibility of microalgae and seaweed usage as alternative energy in the production of biofuels. This project aligns with the requests of having at least 10% of clean transport energy by 2020. The project is about $8 million (€6 million) worth.
“Effectively, seaweed harvested off a beach in the Outer Isles could be heating a crofter’s kettle for their cup of tea the next morning” said Laila Sadler, spokesperson for BioMara. “Conventional biofuel crops compete for land and fresh water with farming and nature. What we need is fast-growing, easily utilized plants which thrive in environments not used for agriculture or conservation Marine algae could be part of the solution. Seaweeds grow rapidly, harness carbon dioxide and have simple structures which make them easily converted to fuel” said Dr Michele Stanley, lead scientist.
A major problem with the biofuels production is that they are made out of plants that use a lot of agricultural space. They have to be as well fast growing so there will be few harvests per year on those lands. Seaweed and algae could be an alternative to using for example corn. These water plants can grow in areas which are not at all fit to agricultural purposes. So developing the perfect hybrid seaweeds and algae will be the next challenge that the scientists will face. The algae must be fast growing to enable at least 6-7 harvests per year.
“Much research and development is needed to unleash the potential for algal biofuels. As well as seaweeds, we will investigate which strains of microalgae are most suitable for oil production and cultivation on an industrial scale. BioMara will investigate every part of the energy-supply chain, from cultivation of the algae to fuel utilisation in remote communities” Dr Michele Stanley.
Besides seaweed and algae production, Scotland can rely on the offshore tidal and wind energy as the country is holding a quarter of Europe’s tidal and wind resources.