Seaweed for an alternative fuel source

Currently, the industrial applications for seaweed uses 85% or more for human consumption. Asia is the greatest location for macroalgae with China being the major producer. The remaining 15% of the industry use is for specific extracts such as the polysaccharides, protein and lipids for feed and human consumption.(1) Some of the polysaccharides extracted from seaweeds are agar, carrageenan, fucoidan, alginate, laminarin, and cellulose. (2)

One company that believes in another potential use for seaweed, fuel. Seaweed energy solutions wants to be a dominate provider of seaweed for fuel. “Our long term goal of making seaweed a competitive source of biomass energy remains.”(3) Seaweed energy solutions is continuing expanding the cultivation of marcoalgae both in coastal waters and open waters. One of their biggest challenges to providing a viable source for alternative fuel is to obtain enough biomass.  Recently, this company has acquired a Norwegian wild seaweed company called Biotral. This acquisition totals 40,000 tons of seaweed. (3)

Many companies are trying to fill the worldwide need for renewable energy sources. There is a current interest for research and development, even in the U.S. “…the DOE’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) is supporting the development of process to convert seaweed biomass into isobutene. The program focus is on improving aquaculture, converting seaweed biomass to fermentable sugars and isobutanol production from sugars and economic and environmental optimization of the production process.”(2)

Using seaweed as biomass meets the need for a renewable fuel source in several areas. Seaweed offers a solution that is low cost, has minimal land usage, and reduces conflict between food and fuel. (2) The ability to thrive on salt water or waste water instead of cultivated farm land is a valuable benefit for this resource. The challenges still remains on the more scientific side for efficiently releasing the sugars and converting hexoses and pentoses to optimum fuel yielding molecules.(2) Improved scientific approaches and sincere determinations for a successful alternative source for fuel makes seaweed a promising area of research to watch.


  1. Kraan S. Mass-cultivation of carbohydrate rich macroalgae, a possible solution for sustainable biofuel production. Mitigation & Adaptation Strategies For Global Change [serial online]. January 2013;18(1):27-46. Available from: Environment Complete, Ipswich, MA. Accessed January 3, 2014.
  2. Wei N, Quarterman J, Jin Y. Marine macroalgae: an untapped resource for producing fuels and chemicals. Trends In Biotechnology [serial online]. 2013;31(2):70-77. Available from: CAB Abstracts, Ipswich, MA. Accessed January 3, 2014.
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