Seaweed could provide answer to looming energy crisis
Seaweed could be about to play a key role in solving Ireland's growing energy crisis.
It has traditionally been seen associated with upmarket cosmetic firms or subsistence farming in Gaeltacht communities.
However, Dr Stefan Kraan, manager of the Irish Seaweed Centre in Galway has claimed that "a frenzy of interest" is developing over the potential role "of seaweed in the field of energy production".
Ireland's Communications Minister Eamon Ryan said that while it was not anticipated ''that there would be a Klondyke- or Clontibret-style gold rush down to the beaches, serious people in the energy world are now saying seaweed biofuels are a real runner."
At the recent Energy Ireland conference it was revealed that the nation was so far behind in the cultivation of biofuels that a country which has marketed itself as the garden of Europe may have to import biofuels from overseas.
So far the attempt to cultivate new sources of energy has concentrated on wind and wave power.
However, Minister Ryan said: "Ireland will certainly be at a serious advantage if someone does crack the seaweed conundrum. The one thing we do have after all is a lot of ocean out there."
Scientists from the Irish Seaweed Centre share the minister's optimism over the possibility of seaweed and algae becoming the second generation of biofuels.
Up to now biofuels have been sourced from crops such as sugar cane and corn, but scientific advances mean brown seaweed could become a major source of energy.
In a recent keynote address at a conference in Galway titled Algae and Biofuels: Quo Vadis, Professor Michael A Borowitzka of the Murdoch University in Australia said that "compared to other bio-energy crops such as rapeseed, canola, peanut and oil palm, a number of species of algae have higher oil content and can grow in saline waters''.
At the same conference Dr Kraan noted that the use of algae would have the additional benefit of not having the negative image "of terrestrial biomass resources".
The growing amount of crops being grown to supply fuel has been blamed for the increase in world food prices, water use and the destruction of the national landscape.
In contrast, seaweed is a rich sustainable marine resource which does not impact on the use of agricultural land.