Technology to convert seaweed into renewable fuels

Last Updated: Friday, January 20, 2012 - 12:37

Washington: A team of scientists has developed breakthrough technology that extracts all the major sugars in seaweed and converts them into renewable fuels and chemicals, thus making it a cost-effective and renewable source of biomass.

The technology used by researchers from Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) expands the feedstocks for advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals production to include seaweed (macroalgae).

“About 60 percent of the dry biomass of seaweed are fermentable carbohydrates, and approximately half of those are locked in a single carbohydrate - alginate,” Daniel Trunfio, Chief Executive Officer at Bio Architecture Lab, said.

“Our scientists have engineered an enzyme to degrade and a pathway to metabolize the alginate, allowing us to utilize all the major sugars in seaweed, which therefore makes the biomass an economical feedstock for the production of renewable fuels and chemicals.

“It is both an incredible scientific achievement and a distinguished honor to be published in Science, and I am very proud of our team. “It is yet another strong validation of BAL’s breakthrough technology,” he said.
Seaweed is an ideal global feedstock for the commercial production of biofuels and renewable chemicals because in addition to its high sugar content it has no lignin, it does not require arable land or freshwater to grow, and it is environmentally friendly.

Globally, less than 3 percent of the coastal waters can produce seaweed capable of replacing over 60 billion gallons of fossil fuel.

Today, in many parts of the world, seaweed is already grown at commercial scale. BAL currently operates four seaweed farms in Chile and has had great success in growing seaweed at economically viable production yields.

“BAL’s technology to ferment a seaweed feedstock to renewable fuels and chemicals has suggested an entirely new pathway for biofuels development, one that is no longer constrained to terrestrial sources,” Jonathan Burbaum, ARPA-E Program Director, said.

“When fully developed and deployed, large scale seaweed cultivation combined with BAL’s technology promises to produce renewable fuels and chemicals without forcing a tradeoff with conventional food crops such as corn or sugarcane,” he added.

The study has been recently published in Science magazine.


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First Published: Friday, January 20, 2012 - 12:37

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