Macroalgae offer an unprecedented potential for high-scale production, states Sea6 Energy. (Photo: Sea6 Energy/FIS)
Startup explores seaweed's potential for biofuel production
Monday, August 08, 2011, 00:20 (GMT + 9)
Chennai-based Sea6 Energy is developing technology to grow and transform seaweed into a form of clean energy: biofuel.
“There is an urgent need to replace fossil fuels with an environmentally friendly and sustainable alternative,” the Indian startup company said in a statement. “Today, converting photosynthetic biomass (plants, grass, algae, etc) into fuels is our only possible route for creating a sustainable drop-in replacement to crude oil.”
At the same time, Sea6 noted, the real problem is not which crop can be converted to fuel but instead how to grow huge enough quantities of biomass because nearly all biomass feedstocks make use of the same limited resources -- arable land, fresh water and fertilizer -- which are employed for agriculture.
Sea6 Energy’s founders, four students and their professor at IIT Madras, India's leading technical institute, have worked for the past two years exploring microalgae’s biofuel potential, an effort shared by thousands of researchers worldwide and particularly in the US. They finally concluded that microalgae’s possibilities as a biofuel feedstock would take many years to develop, and instead turned to macroalgae.
"We were preparing to abandon the project when we realised that we were chasing the wrong idea," explained Sea6 Energy chairman Shrikumar Suryanarayan, The Economic Times reports.
Seaweed, or macroalgae, can circumvent this problem, the company highlighted.
Seaweed grows in shallow ocean waters, does not require land and does not need external nutrients like fertilizer for growth; it also grows quickly, is cheap and easy to harvest.
“Seaweed, technically known as macro-algae, can offer an unmatched potential for scalability by growing directly on the ocean surface and extracting nutrients from flowing water. It has a proven high productivity and is cultivated across the world for various speciality food products at a very nominal price,” Sea6 explained.
The firm has identified the central technology elements needed to develop seaweed biomass-derived biofuel as a practical replacement for liquid fuel.
With its network of partners, Sea6 is working towards improving the cultivation and conversion technology of seaweed to fuel.
Sea6 Energy envisions a future where the abundant oceans will be our energy farms of tomorrow.
- Seaweed production to soar for bio-fuel manufacturing
By Natalia Real