Researchers engineer microbe to make seaweed a cost-effective source of renewable fuel
By Darren Quick
21:34 January 19, 2012
One of the biggest criticisms leveled at biofuels that are derived from crops such as wheat, corn and sugar cane, is that they result in valuable land being taken away from food production. For this reason there are various research efforts underway to turn seaweed into a viable renewable source of biomass. Now a team from Bio Architecture Lab (BAL) claims to have developed a breakthrough technology that makes seaweed a cost-effective source of biomass by engineering a microbe that can extract all the major sugars in seaweed and convert them into renewable fuels and chemicals.
Because of its high sugar content, the fact it doesn't require arable land or freshwater to grow, and is environmentally friendly, seaweed is seen as an ideal global feedstock for the commercial production of biofuels and renewable chemicals. According to BAL, less than three percent of the coastal waters globally is all that's required to produce enough seaweed capable of replacing over 60 billion gallons (227 billion liters) of fossil fuel.
The BAL team's breakthrough, which could help make this underutilized resource much more economically attractive, centers around an enzyme that is able to unlock and metabolize the polysaccharides within the seaweed.