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Various forms of biomass, biofuel and biogas production are already in operation: wood waste, ethanol from sugar cane, primary wood (willow, poplar, pine), miscanthus, anaerobic digestion of organic waste, and so on.

Is it possible to carry out large-scale seaweed cultivation for biomass / biofuel production at sea, or are the technical / economic / regulatory barriers that make it much harder, relative to land-based biomass production?

  • this seems like a tough one to get an answer for, as this is really still cutting edge R&D. would be great to see work, though. – Nate Jun 16 '13 at 23:58
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    see below - are we talking seaweed cultivation in the sea, or pond/closed bioreactor on land? – mart Jun 17 '13 at 9:33
  • @mart done - it's at sea – EnergyNumbers Jun 17 '13 at 9:40
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    I notice you didn't ask about things from an environmental perspective. I think it is worth a mention. You only asked if it was possible, but not sustainable. – going Jun 27 '13 at 2:13
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I have been pursuing this problem for many years and I have come up with a viable solution that I have developed from my 10 years of research and commercial application. I have developed a system called SSTCS-"Synergistic Sustainable Tumble Culture System" that can take eutophic water from point source pollution from effluent or no point pollution that happens to watersheds influenced by many sources; and clean the water by nutrient stripping the excess nitrogen, phosphorus and carbon dioxide out of the water while increasing dissolved oxygen and generating a HUGE sustainable biomass that could be used food or bio-energy. I am in the process of trying to find funding so we can truly make steps towards a cleaner environment and reducing global warming. Anyone interested should go to my site; www.seaplantssolutions.com and see what we could do with a system like this. Thank you, Tim Visi

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    If you are an expert on this topic, then I find it surprising that it contains no useful information other than "buy this product", which without declaring your affiliation to the linked website/company is nothing more than spam. Please revise your post to contain relevant information and declare your affiliation with the product/website you link to. Thank you. – Earthliŋ Jun 18 '13 at 1:02
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    To Earthling; if you went to my website about sea plants solutions then you would have seen a picture of me ; my background as a seaweed/macroalgae cultivator and the info you are seeking. I decided not to add all that into my first post because I thought I'd be redundant when anyone could go there and read about it. But for you; I have no problem doing that if that is what you need. I AM the person; Tim Visi that created that website and that IS me in that website. And YES; I AM an expert in growing all sorts of species of macroalgae and YES; is the answer. – Seaweedguru Jun 18 '13 at 2:22
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    Many thanks for your additions. As I understand it, the idea of the stackexchange network is to create good content on this site. We do get a fair amount of spam, which doesn't look much different from your post here ("I got exactly what you're looking for, check out my website"), whence my comment. There are details in your comments which can't be found on your website; these type of comments make your post so much more valuable to the readers. – Earthliŋ Jun 18 '13 at 3:27
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    @Seaweedguru Welcome to Sustainable Living and thank you for sharing this interesting information. Could you please add the relevant parts in your comments to your original answer (just use the edit button below it)? This way readers don't have to go through all the comments. – THelper Jun 18 '13 at 7:25
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    I think to answer the question "is it possible ..." It would be best to showcase one good example and explain why it's not a one-off project. – mart Jun 18 '13 at 8:59
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This answer assumes algae production on land in ponds or similiar structures, the question was about farming algae from the sea - so this answer may not be that interesting.

It is probably possible, but may very well be unsustainable or uneconomical. This very critical article lists several constraints that are unique to algae biomass:

  • Water - is obviously needed in great amounts. While seawater is abundant in some places it is not so in deserts. In open pond systems we can expect much evaporation. Because of the competition over soil, deserts would lend themselves, but this would necessitate long range water transport with the associated energy cost.
  • Infrastructure costs - especially in the case of closed bioreactors, there's much embedded energy (and money!) in the infrastructure
  • In places where there are renewable energy laws that subsidize or otherwise support renewable energies, they may not account for algae biomass

One issue I don't see as a problem is fertilizer - unless the algae are burnt, the leftovers of the downstream process, whether oil production, AD or some other fermentation, will contain all the major nutrients.

Edit to add - Two other issues, from the comparison with land-based biomass:

  • There's a huge body of knowledge and established technologies and infrastructure regarding farming - wether for food or other production. Algae biomass will require new inventions and infrastructure.
  • Likewise there are huge bodies of regulations, subsidies and so on for the production of land-based biomass. Algae biomass may not tie well into these frameworks - this may actually be a good thing if regulations or subsidies push towards less sustainable practices.
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    I think the question assumes this cultivation would occur in the oceans, where water is freely available. Note the part of the question that says "... relative to land-based biomass". The article you link to is pure nonsense. It uses the tired argument that because corn-based ethanol is a bad idea, all biofuels are. Corn-based ethanol is a side-effect of US corn subsidies. It's probably the worst biofuel. There are many other biofuels in mass-production that already return significantly more energy out than what gets put in (by humans). – Nate Jun 17 '13 at 8:22
  • The article you link to seems rather populistic and only discusses negative points. I agree that using algae to produce biomass or biofuel has downsides, but there are also good points especially when you compare it to energy from oil and coal. I think this article is much better as it has a more balanced view of the pros and cons. – THelper Jun 17 '13 at 9:01
  • My answer assumed production on land. – mart Jun 17 '13 at 9:46

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