Intelligent Energy

In the future, seaweed might fuel your car

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Scientists at Tel Aviv University are dedicating study to seaweed as a sustainable biofuel feedstock, and are proposing that the oceans are a better source of energy than farmland.

Seaweed Covered Stony Outcrops, Littlehampton Beach (photo credit Bob Embleton)

Fortunes have been built around the biofuel industry's search for designer breeds of algae, but the scientists at Israel's Tel Aviv University are saying to look no further than the ocean.

Seaweed is commonly used for industrial purposes such as making fertilizers or even toothpaste and paints; humans consume seaweed for both food and medicine. It has also drawn the attention of researchers worldwide for its potential use as a biofuel feedstock.

Today, UPI reported that Tel Aviv University scientists are recommending that seaweed, a common form of algae, be used to make bioethanol. The researchers are devising a process for ample seaweed harvests, and say that it is a more sustainable alternative to crops that grow on farmland.

They proposed that seaweed would grow faster than land-based crops, and wouldn't interfere with food supplies. It also has a net positive environmental impact, the researchers say, - seaweed filters harmful byproducts of civilization from reaching the oceans, and wouldn't pose any danger to marine habitats and biodiversity.

Researchers in Ireland have suggested that the emerald isle could become a major energy producer through algae farming. Norwegian scientist Svein Jarie Horn even wrote a book about its biofuel potential. U.S. biotech company Bio Architecture Lab has genetically engineered e.coli bacteria to transform seaweed into chemicals and fuels.

Biofuels are already powering U.S. military fight jets, blimps, and some commercial aircraft. The Obama administration has allocated nearly half a billion dollars towards R&D, and recently highlighted algae biofuels in a speech focused on rising gas prices.

Who ever would have thought that a U.S. President would find algae so endearing. Take a moment to admire the newfound complexity of age old organics the next time you order seaweed soup or step over flotsam on the beach.

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David Worthington

Contributing Editor

David Worthington has written for BetaNews, eWeek, PC World, Technologizer and ZDNet. Formerly, he was a senior editor at SD Times. He holds a business degree from Temple University. He is based in New York. Follow him on Twitter. Disclosure