When most people think of biofuels, the plant that comes into mind is probably corn. Well, there’s a whole new option that comes from the sea – kelp.
It has been known that algae could make a great substitute for traditional biocrops, but the use of seaweed is something that has only recently been taken into consideration. While it can be harvested year round, the best time is reportedly during July as the kelp contains the most carbohydrates, which would ensure optimal sugar release for biofuel production as well as lowest metal content. Dr. Jessica Adams, lead researcher at Aberystwyth University explains that, “storage carbohydrate and soluble sugars get converted into ethanol in the fermentation process…Metals can inhibit the yeast…”
Unlike traditional biocrops, marine biocrops will not take away potential land for planting food and currently accounts for 50 percent of global biomass. In fact, seaweed by itself is capable of producing more biomass per square meter over terrestrial crops like sugar cane. Besides this, producing biofuels from kelp can occur in different ways from fermentation to anaerobic digestion.
With such an abundance of seaweed, the only drawback is harvesting season, however it might be possible that different areas of the world might allow for different harvests. While the main focus of the seaweed will be for its potential for biofuel, future research will also focus on “identifying and extracting high value substances such as pigment and phenols before biofuel production.”