Seaweed farms for biofuels may be coming to a Scottish sea loch near you soon, and although this idea is relatively new to most, the history of seaweed utilisation is deep-rooted.
Archaeological evidence suggests that Japanese aborigines ate seaweed as early as 300BC (Ragan and Bird, 1987), and in AD 701 it was written in the Law of Taiho that seaweeds -including kelp- were used to pay taxes to the courts! Now wouldn’t that be a nice thought in today’s economic crisis…
Closer to home, we are beginning to discuss and explore the reality of seaweed biomass for sustainable fuels of the future. However, historic remains in Scottish Bronze Age cremations suggest that even then, the anthropogenic uses of seaweed for fuel had been put to practise.
Currently, the kind of kelp farming we imagine as a resource of the future requires little in the way of 21st century technology, and the idea that kelp culture can be part of a larger scheme to utilise ‘Energy from the Sea’ is not a new one. Below is an article from 1975 in the magazine ‘Popular Science’ which describes an early trial by scientists and US Navy frogmen, who carried out a ‘mission’ to develop kelp culture 60miles out in the Pacific Ocean.
This idea, which at the time was quoted in the article as ‘far seeing’, is to date being explored by many international marine renewable research groups, and taking the next step towards the realisation of this once ‘far seeing’ idea is now coming to a head.
Here in the sea lochs of the Scottish west coast the Scottish Salmon Company have been trialling the co-culture of salmon and kelp to reuse the nutrient rich waste produced by fish farming. The potential to produce seaweed for fuel as a co-product of salmon cultivation is currently proving to be success, and is only paving the way for full-scale seaweed farms locally.
All-in-all from the historic to the futuristic, the realistic is fast approaching. It may have taken decades (if not more…) to refine that light-bulb moment of seaweed energy exploitation, and it could in our lifetime become part of the solution to the long anticipated fuel crisis.
Just another reason to become a fan of all things algae.