Scientists Make Seaweed-Fuel Breakthrough
Next hurdle: bringing it to market
By Matt Cantor, Newser User
Posted Jan 20, 2012 8:23 AM CST
An Indonesian woman brings in harvested seaweed from her farm off the beach in Nusa Dua, Bali, Indonesia.   (AP Photo/Ed Wray)

(Newser) – Algae-based fuel is a step closer to reality. Scientists in California have genetically modified a microbe so that it can convert seaweed into biofuel, the Guardian reports. "Natural seaweed species grow very fast—10 times faster than normal plants—and are full of sugars, but it has been very difficult to make ethanol by conventional fermentation," says a researcher. The microbe breakthrough is a "critical step" toward an alternative form of ethanol, but there's still a long way to go.

"Scaling up processes using engineered microbes is not always easy. They also need to prove the economics work," the scientist adds. That could be tough: "The costs are still five times higher than they need to be to get to a reasonable fuel price," says another expert. Still, an abundance of existing seaweed farms offers promise for the future. "In China and Japan, you will see farms that are the equivalent of the Midwest cornfields in the US," says a researcher involved. Some 3% of coastal waters worldwide could provide enough ethanol to supply more than 40% of US drivers' needs, he notes.

More From Newser
My Take on This Story
To report an error on this story,
notify our editors.
Your Take
1%
2%
14%
0%
83%
0%
83% of people agree
that it's Brilliant
Check Out Another Brilliant Story
You Might Like
Comments
Showing 3 of 19 comments
InferiorToYou
Jan 21, 2012 2:42 PM CST
It might be 4 times too expensive for fuel production, but I bet it would make a nice beverage. "When further engineered for ethanol synthesis, this platform enables bioethanol production directly from macroalgae via a consolidated process, achieving a titer of 4.7% volume/volume and a yield of 0.281 weight ethanol/weight dry macroalgae (equivalent to ~80% of the maximum theoretical yield from the sugar composition in macroalgae). "
JoeQ
Jan 21, 2012 2:14 PM CST
Harvesting the seaweed from the ocean sounds good on the surface of it.
BrushMan
Jan 20, 2012 1:25 PM CST
The little guy in the straw hat has his work cut out for him!