Friday, January 20, 2012

Success Reported in Converting Seaweed Into Oil, With No Loss of Arable Land

Scientists say they have unlocked the secret of turning its seeaweed sugar into energy.
The Science journal reports that the breakthrough was made possible by a newly engineered microbe which metabolizes all of the major sugars in brown seaweed, potentially making it a cost-competitive alternative to petroleum fuel. The technology could be developed to lead to commercialisation within the next three years.

The team is at the Berkeley, California-based Bio Architecture Lab. They engineered a form of E. coli bacteria that can digest the seaweed's sugars into ethanol.

Daniel Trunfio, chief executive officer at Bio Architecture Lab: "Our scientists have engineered an enzyme to degrade and a pathway to metabolise the alginate, allowing us to utilise all the major sugars in seaweed" [...] "makes the biomass an economical feedstock for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals,"

Says the Ottawa Citizen: The lab currently has four aquafarming sites in Chile where it hopes to scale up its microbe technology as the next step on the path to commercialisation in the next three years.

Seaweed is seen as an appealing option for biofuel because, unlike corn and sugar cane, it does not use arable land and so does not compete with crops grown for food.

Less than three percent of the world's coastal waters can produce enough seaweed to replace some 60 billion gallons of fossil fuel, according to background information in the article.

At peak production, seaweed could produce 19,000 litres per hectare annually, about twice the level of ethanol productivity from sugarcane and five times higher than the ethanol productivity from corn.

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