The structure, known as the Seaweed Carrier, makes a clean break with past seaweed cultivation methods that have all been based on ropes - a step which could put the world considerably closer to developing the huge potential seaweed has as a renewable source of energy.
The Seaweed Carrier is a sheet-like structure that basically copies a very large seaweed plant, moving freely back and forth through the sea from a single mooring on the ocean floor. The Norwegian Patent Office has accepted the patent and will issue a patent number this month.
SES is focusing on a completely new method of mass cultivation of seaweed. SES’ vision is that the Seaweed Carrier will allow seaweed cultivation to become a possibility in deeper and more exposed waters, opening the way for large scale production that is necessary to make seaweed a viable source of energy. The carrier can withstand rough water, has few moving parts, has low cost and allows for easy harvesting.
“Seaweed for energy purposes simply makes sense and we believe the concept of the Seaweed Carrier puts us in a unique position to explore the full potential cultivated seaweed has as a sustainable source of renewable energy,” said Pål Bakken, chief executive of Seaweed Energy Solutions.
Development of the Seaweed Carrier is one of SES’ key achievements to date in its pursuit to develop large-scale cultivation of seaweed for the production of what it sees as one of the most exciting new sources of bioenergy.
Since its modest start in 2006 and through its wide research, SES has grown increasingly confident that biomass from seaweed offers a huge opportunity to produce biogas, bioethanol and other petro-chemical replacements. While the industry to produce seaweed biofuel is still in its infancy, its potential could be far-reaching. Seaweed grows faster than terrestrial plants and there is no conflict with food production as there is with land-based energy crops, lowering the overall costs and adding environmental benefits.
Seaweed cultivation involves no land-use change issues and does not take up fresh water supplies. By farming the ocean, new underwater “forests” are added to the planet, creating new global carbon sinks, or areas of vegetation that absorb carbon dioxide. Mass cultivation of seaweed even helps fish stocks and cleans up our oceans because of its ability to absorb pollutants in the sea.
Growing seaweed in farms covering an area of just less than 0.05 percent of Europe’s coastal regions would yield a yearly production of 75 million tons of seaweed. This biomass could be converted into an estimated 3.2 billion litres of bioethanol, which would represent about 4.7 percent of the global ethanol production in 2008. Alternatively it could be 1500 million cubic metres of biomethane, which is equivalent to an energy content of about 20 TWh.