Who Needs Petrol When You Can Run Your Car On Seaweed?

By Jamie Condliffe on at

Some folks bang on about biofuels being the future of car fuels. In reality, though, they're expensive, and that's largely because they're a pain in the arse to make. The solution might be seaweed.

Think about it, and being able to use seaweed to make biofuel would be great: it grows underwater so wouldn't get in the way of growing crops; it grows like stink without any fertiliser or irrigation; and — here comes some science — its structure, or more accurately a lack of lignin-a complex sugars, should make the process of breaking it down fairly rapid.

Only, the sugars in seaweed are mighty tricky to convert into ethanol. "The form of the sugar inside the seaweed is very exotic," Yasuo Yoshikuni from Bio Architecture Lab told Scientific American. "There is no industrial microbe to break down alginate and convert it into fuels and chemical compounds."

But now, working with the University of Washington in Seattle, USA, Bio Architecture Lab has developed a microbe capable of digesting seaweed and converting into ethanol, reports Scientific American. Based on the ubiquitous bacterium Escherichia coli, it can turn the sugars in edible seaweeds into fuel. The reaction evens happens at a relatively low 25 Celsius, meaning it doesn't need much energy input to work.

So, what about yields? Well, an analysis from the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (pdf) seems to suggests that the US could produce 1 per cent of the fuel it currently uses by growing seaweed in slightly less than 1 per cent of its territorial waters. So, it's not going to supply fuel for the whole of Britain, but it might lend a helping hand. [Scientific American]

Image credit: Foilman from flickr