CPI project to explore the potential of seaweed
Seaweed is a commodity that could potentially give oil a run for its money
Wilton Centre-based CPI (Centre for Process Innovation) is leading an Innovate UK funded multi-party research and development project entitled SeaGas, the main focus of which is the development of a viable anaerobic digestion (AD) process for generating renewable energy.
The project will undertake an in-depth investigation of seaweed due to the transformative role it could play in generating green energy and capturing carbon.
According to a report by the Government’s Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science department (CEFAS), in the years between 2000 and 2014, global seaweed production more than doubled from 10.5 to 28.4 million tonnes.
In Asia seaweed is already big business, with the continent dominating 96.6% of global production, a figure that dwarfs Europe’s 1%. China and Indonesia have the largest global markets for seaweed production, with China alone accounting for 50.8% of production.
In the UK, seaweed is currently used in animal feed and dietary supplements, but is becoming increasingly popular as a food in its own right within the trendy “superfood” market due to a high protein content, abundance of minerals such as calcium and iron, and levels of vitamin C to top that of an orange.
Seaweed also makes an excellent fertiliser and flavour enhancer, and appears in many chemicals, including hydrocolloids, where it acts as a thickener or gum.
However the UK is only just beginning to realise the most exciting potential application for seaweed; as a feedstock for the production of sustainable energy by anaerobic digestion (AD).
Working with CPI on the project are Queen’s University Belfast, The University of Newcastle, and CEFAS, as well The Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS), which is carrying out extensive work in seaweed cultivation at its pilot farm.
CPI's Roosje Watson commented: "Seaweed farms could be used to absorb CO2 very efficiently, with research suggesting that if seaweed farms covered 9% of the ocean they could produce enough biomethane to replace all of today’s needs in fossil fuel energy, while removing 53 gigatonnes of CO2 (about the same as all current human emissions) per year from the atmosphere.
"Sustainable fish production could also benefit from an increase in seaweed, with the potential to provide an additional 200kg per year, per person, for 10 billion people, as well as a reduction in ocean acidification and improved biodiversity.
"Our extensive coastline means increased seaweed production could be achieved in the UK through the introduction of farming. The SeaGas project is investigating what the environmental impact of this would be to determine the level of sustainable farming which is possible, and identify the levels of existing stocks of wild seaweed."
She added: "Clearly the supply chain for seaweed production will need to be investigated and developed further before the UK can start to implement seaweed focused energy generation or carbon capture strategies, but there are further barriers that must be overcome to make this vision a reality.
"If we are to exploit this interesting aquatic plant to its full potential, knowledge transfer between research and industry, of the kind exemplified by the SeaGas project, and the development of algal-business clusters, will be invaluable."