Northwest researchers plan to grow seaweed for fuel

PORTLAND, Ore. — Researchers at the Pacific Northwest National Laboratory in Washington are working on technology to turn seaweed into biofuel.

“More than 70 percent of our planet is covered by the ocean, and if we grow biofuel in the ocean then we are not competing with land and fresh water that we need to drink and grow food for humans consumption,” said Frances White, PNNL’s spokesperson.

Of course to make biofuel from seaweed, they first have to grow the seaweed, and a lot of it. It’s something some have tried and failed to do in the past.

“Previously our country has tried growing seaweed on anchored systems but there have been large storms that have tangled up the lines and resulted in us losing the seaweed,” White said.

So instead of an anchored seaweed farm, PNNL researchers are working on a free-floating one.

Seaweed seedlings would be attached to a three mile-long carbon-fiber line system.

That system would be attached to buoys and float freely out on the open ocean.

It would be equipped with GPS so that after months of floating from Washington down to California, crews could locate the kelp and harvest it.

Ocean experts at Oregon State University will test a prototype of the system at the school’s famed wave lab and help determine how things like waves, storm surges, even currents affect it.

The Department of Energy is funding this project. It maintains the United States could produce enough seaweed to meet about 10 percent of our annual transportation energy needs.

“They are kind of far out ideas, but if they work they have the potential to absolutely change the way we make or consume energy,” said White.


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