A recently published paper in Science claims that a new process has been developed to turn seaweed into a viable feedstock for biofuel. Bio Architecture Lab says that they’ve isolated an enzyme that could be used to convert seaweed into sugar. Making fuel and chemicals from crops such as corn and sugar cane requires significant quantities of land and fresh water, creating competition for resources with agriculture. Macro algae such as seaweed, by contrast, grow in salt water and are relatively productive energy sources because they are 60 percent carbohydrates and don’t contain lignin, which binds up useful molecules in many earthbound plants. According to scientists sixty percent of the dry biomass of seaweed are sugars, and more than half of those are locked in a single sugar called alginate. The scientists at Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) say that they have developed a pathway to metabolize the sugar alginate, allowing it to unlock all of the sugars found in seaweed. The enzyme discovered by BAL is derived from E. Coli bacteria. The company is hoping that it can process seaweed directly into fuel, by passing traditional multi-step biofuel production methods. BAL is now operating four seaweed farms off the coast of Chile, and estimates that if three percent of shore lines were dedicated to aqua-farming seaweed, these farms could produce sixty billion gallons of biofuel a year.
Photo Credit: Alexandre Meinesz