'Green fuel' from seaweed could help solve energy crisis
The dramatic increase in the price of fuel in recent years has succeeded where many environmental groups have failed: It convinced many firms around the world to seek alternative sources of energy. One of the cheapest alternatives, already commercially available, is the production of fuel from a variety of agricultural produce, mostly corn. However, the increase in the demand for corn has also caused a significant price hike and developing nations' populations are experiencing difficulties obtaining corn for consumption.
It is now possible that new technology may offer a solution to the problem, which Israeli firm Seambiotic Ltd. revealed earlier this week. The technology allows the production of commercial quantities of fuel from a surprising source, one that will not undermine global food sources: seaweed.
The new technology unveiled by the firm at an international conference on marine biotechnology that opened on Sunday in Eilat, allows the industrial cultivation of seaweed through the use of carbon dioxide emissions from power plants.
Instead of allowing the polluting gas - one of the main contributors to global warming - to escape into the atmosphere, the gas passes through a filtration process and enters a pool, where it feeds microscopic seaweed. The seaweed is used to produce fuel.
According to the scientists who developed this technology, it is possible to produce a liter of fuel for every five kilograms of seaweed.
The technology was developed in the experimental farm set up by Seambiotic Ltd. three years ago in the compound of the Ashkelon power plant, with the support of the Israel Electric Corporation.
The seaweed pools are situated several hundred meters from the power plant smokestacks, and are filled with sea water that is used to cool the plant's turbines. The seaweed used is found in the Mediterranean in small concentrations, but the carbon dioxide allows it to grow in the pools at a concentration of one million times greater.
Last week, the company filed a technology patent in the United States.
"In the scientific literature, it is stated that it is impossible to grow seaweed through the use of carbon dioxide from power plants, because of the large quantities of pollutants released from the smokestacks," says Amnon Bachar, director of Seambiotic.
"But it appears that whoever wrote that does not know how to grow seaweed. We have found that seaweed can grow on the basis of the carbon dioxide being emitted from power plants. We get the carbon dioxide for free, and the power plant produces less pollution," he said.
The use of carbon dioxide reduces the cost of production radically, to about 50 cents per kilo of seaweed.