Seaweed Biofuel Supporters Get Another Chance In USA, European Countries

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By Car Brand Experts


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Last year, major investors abandoned seaweed biofuel, with ExxonMobil among those swiftly exiting. Nevertheless, optimism is still present among smaller players. The US Department of Energy continues to advance new seaweed-related initiatives, and a fresh EU coalition is also gearing up.

The Seaweed Biofuel Dilemma

To start, the positive aspect. Seaweed farming could offer a more sustainable, dependable energy crop supply chain. Instead of utilizing arable land or destroying diverse ecosystems, a seaweed facility could take advantage of a wider variety of site locations, encompassing both indoor and outdoor structures.

One challenge is how to generate revenue from the petite oil-enriched green creatures. ExxonMobil backed an ongoing seaweed research project for over a decade, gaining favorable publicity for its sustainable fuels endeavors before officially handing off the seaweed baton in 2023 (find more seaweed biofuel stories here).

Another concern pertains to the overall carbon footprint of seaweed biofuel. Some stakeholders propose employing seaweed farms to absorb surplus carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. However, a real-world lifecycle assessment in the past year suggested that seaweed biofuel production might surpass diesel fuel in terms of carbon emissions.

A Fresh Perspective For Seaweed Biofuel

This doesn’t mean investors have thrown in the towel. In another “resurrection” development, last October the EU rolled out a new 4-year, €5 million seaweed biofuel collaboration named the FUELGAE project.

Fuelgae represents a reversal of the norm. Instead of integrating off-the-shelf carbon capture systems into seaweed farming operations, the primary emphasis is on devising new systems for capturing carbon from industrial activities and routing them to a seaweed biofuel facility.

In attracting private sector partners, Fuelgae is leveraging the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals approach, which casts a broad net for private sector investments. Fuelgae also highlights that the European Green Deal policy aims for carbon neutrality by 2050, with biofuels being crucial in decarbonizing the transportation sector.

“Among various biofuels, seaweed holds a significant advantage due to its growth rates, photosynthetic efficiency, and capacity to produce lipids and carbohydrates essential for biofuel production,” Fuelgae elaborates, conveniently overlooking the challenges.

Fuelgae has already enlisted 14 partners to showcase projects employing carbon emissions from two sites in Europe, namely a biorefinery and a steel mill. The initiative is also interconnected with other EU seaweed endeavors.

USA Sets Sights On The Seaweed Award

Developments are also gaining traction in the USA, including the macroalgae (aka seaweed) domain. Earlier this year, the Bioenergy Technologies Office of the US Department of Energy collaborated with the Office of Fossil Energy and Carbon Management to initiate a new $18.8 million funding opportunity entitled MACRO, for Mixed Seaweed Conversion Research Opportunity.

Realistically, the team acknowledges that macroalgae “are underutilized and challenging to convert due to variation, distinctive chemical composition, and storage volatility.” Nonetheless, the rewards could be substantial.

“Overcoming these conversion hurdles will aid in building seaweed biomass supply chains, boosting their demand, and ultimately advancing the U.S. bioeconomy by facilitating increased volumes of sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) and carbon dioxide (CO2) conversion to seaweed,” they elaborate.

They also stress that seaweeds and other “wet waste” resources play a pivotal role in the 2050 decarbonization objective set by the Biden-Harris administration for the USA, with a specific focus on supporting sustainable aviation fuels and the burgeoning bioeconomy.

The selected awardees will be disclosed in September, with one topic category concentrating on further research and development. While it might seem like a small step, the Energy Department team highlights that this segment of the funding round addresses “voids in storage, mobilization, and conversion of readily available seaweed, incorporating offshore farmed seaweeds, seaweed residues, and blends of seaweed with other waste seaweeds,” among other critical areas.

A second topic category aligns more with the Fuelgae timetable. Awardees in this segment will concentrate on seaweed farming (micro or macro) aided by carbon dioxide emissions from power plants and additional industrial sources.

More Seaweed For Sustainable Food Systems

In a captivating turn, the second topic category centers on value-added products beyond seaweed biofuel.

“Applications are being sought that utilize anthropogenic (e.g., fossil fuel derived) CO2 emissions, including concentrated CO2 supplied from DAC technologies, in the cultivation process and subsequently convert macro- and/or micro-algae into low-carbon agricultural applications or bioproducts like animal feed,” the Energy Department clarifies.

The application process concluded last month, and a total of eight awardees will be unveiled in September. Meanwhile, the Energy Department is already funding one such project, poised to yield aquatic feed derived from microalgae if all progresses according to plan.

On a contrasting note, standards have been set modestly low in the animal feed arena. Some seaweed investors have already surged far ahead of the competition. A recent development in this realm saw a collaboration involving the Singapore-Netherlands startup Sophie’s Bionutrients and the New Zealand microalgae company NewFish, alongside research institutions in the Netherlands and New Zealand, announcing a fresh partnership on GMO-free, dairy-free alternative food products for human consumption.

In a press release, the partners reveal they are part of a “global effort to develop microalgae as the foundation for sustainable nutrition and innovative food items that eliminate animal suffering and offer an ecological footprint significantly superior to intensive industrial farming.”

“This collaboration will serve as a springboard for enhanced global cooperation among the entities and will expedite growth in the microalgae food and nutrition sector. We are addressing a widespread issue that demands a collective resolution,” stated NewFish general manager Hamish Howard.

The Seaweed Biofuel Market Flexes Its Strength

Returning to seaweed biofuel, it seems that persistence is starting to yield results. On April 3, the firm Research and Markets observed that globally, the seaweed biofuel market “has witnessed notable growth.” They also attribute North America with assuming a leadership position.role.

“The worldwide transition towards sustainability plays a crucial role in propelling the global algae biofuel industry, stimulating advancements and investments in this eco-friendly energy sector,” as stated by Research and Markets. “This evolution is driven by the pressing necessity to combat climate change, decrease dependence on traditional fuels, and develop more enduring energy alternatives.”

The fundamental inquiry revolves around the potential sustainability of growth in the algae biofuel sphere, as projected by Research and Markets. If realized, it would aptly validate the Energy Department’s strategies.

Moreover, a group of American scientists are already contemplating the idea of cultivating algae biofuel on Mars. If you have any reflections on this, feel free to share your thoughts in the comment section.

Connect with me @tinamcasey on Bluesky, Threads, Instagram, and LinkedIn.

Image (edited): The innovative Fuelgae initiative in Europe showcases global endorsement for investors exploring sustainable opportunities in the algae biofuel arena (courtesy of Fuelgae).


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