A team of scientists from various universities in Israel has been studying marine macroalgae, also known as common seaweed. The group has determined that these algae can be farmed more quickly than land-based crops used for bioethanol and harvested as fuel without taking up land that could be employed in more profitable or environmentally conscious ways.
In addition, although both seaweed biofuels and bioethanol from food crops are less environmentally destructive than burning fossil fuels, using seaweed to develop biofuels is much more environmentally beneficial than creating bioethanol from crops like corn and sugarcane, as applying such crops for this purpose instead of using them to feed people causes food prices to rocket and can lead to food shortages.
Avigdor Abelson, a professor of Tel Aviv University’s Department of Zoology and the new Renewable Energy Center, also believes that growing macroalgae for bioethanol production can take care of the problem of eutrophication along the country’s coasts.
Eutrophication is pollution in waterways caused by human waste, or sewage, and aquaculture or fish farming operations. The result is excessive amounts of nutrients including phosphates and nitrates as well as harmful algae, all elements that ultimately damage endangered coral reefs. Multiple coastal regions, such as the Red Sea in the south of Israel, have suffered from eutrophication.
The scientists created an artificial “ecosystem” which they call “Combined Aquaculture Multi-Use Systems” (CAMUS). It incorporates the effects of human activity and realistically mimics the marine environment.
According to the scientists, the excess nutrients that come from man-made fish feeders, which are considered contaminants due to their harmful effects on the marine ecosystem, could be utilised by filter feeders like oysters and other shellfish and thus turned into food by these animals to sustain the growth of more seaweed.
Moreover, the seaweed can be grown along the coast unobtrusively, Abelson said.
“By employing multiple species, CAMUS can turn waste into productive resources such as biofuel, at the same time reducing pollution’s impact on the local ecosystem,” he stated.
Another advantage is that seaweed could become a renewable energy source that does not jeopardize natural habitats, biodiversity or human food sources.
Now, the scientists are collaborating to boost the carbohydrate and sugar contents of seaweed so they can efficiently ferment it into bioethanol.
The team is confident that macroalgae will be a major source for biofuel in the future. Let’s hope so!