Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Seaweed to Biofuel: 6 (!) Harvests per Year !

The Earth is a biological planet. For that reason, the best way to make any chemical -- including fuels -- will be to use a biological approach. Large areas of the land surface can be used which are not suitable for growing food. But even more, the ocean itself can be used to grow abundant biomass for making chemicals and fuel. And the ocean can produce an abundant harvest indeed.
Now a group at the Korea Institute of Technology in South Korea has developed a way to use marine algae, or seaweed, to produce bioethanol and avoid taking up land altogether.

The group says seaweed has a number of advantages over land-based biomass. It grows much faster, allowing up to six harvests per year; unlike trees and plants, it does not contain lignin and so requires no pre-treatment before it can be turned into fuel; and it absorbs up to seven times as much carbon dioxide from the atmosphere as wood.

The group's patent suggests treating all sizes of algae - from large kelp to single-celled spirulina - with an enzyme to break them into simple sugars, which can then be fermented into ethanol.

The resulting seaweed biofuel is cheaper and simpler to produce than crop or wood-based fuels, and will have no effect on the price of food, says the group. _NS
Of course you can make other fuels such as butanol, jet fuel, diesel, gasoline . . . . All you need is the right catalysts and either a gasification plant or a pyrolysis plant (or both). You can make plastics, solvents, or program the algae to make valuable pharmaceuticals or other commercial products.

The only thing that threatens the human enterprise on this planet is bad leadership, and unfortunately we have a bumper crop of that.

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