Apart from being popular in Chinese cuisine, seaweed has another quality that may be useful in everyday life: as a source of clean energy.
Attempts to use the sea plant to create biofuel were made by a team in Chicago in the late 1960s, but according to the Scottish Association of Marine Science (SAMS), their attempts failed due to “a lack of knowledge […] and offshore farming methods”.
In January 2012, however, a team from Berkley, California, published in the journal Science that they had engineered a new method in which seaweed can be converted into biofuels.
Speaking to Blue & Green Tomorrow, Phil Kerrison from SAMS said, “There is a lot of sea surface area that could be utilised for the cultivation of seaweed. That biomass can then be converted into either biofuel or other chemical products.”
Using products such as palm oil can create more carbon dioxide than diesel. In the Guardian Kerrison said, “Seaweed does not have any of these problems.”
Much of the biofuel currently created is land-based. “This uses up agricultural land that could be used for other things. It also uses up fresh water that could be put to better use”, added Kerrison.
Despite the promising outlook on the farming of sea kelp, the process is seen as largely expensive. Kerrison blamed the high costs of cultivation, saying that countries such as China are much cheaper due to low wages.
Ecofys, consultants in renewable energy, said in a report that the cost of aquatic biomass production is “too high to compete with bio energy applications from biomass produced on land”.
Although many see the potential of aquatic biomass production, including the UK government which has endorsed the industry in its future energy plans, it may well be the case that the cheapness of more damaging methods of biomass production take precedence.