[Editor's note: Mridul is the newest writer to join the Red, Green, and Blue team. We are fortunate to have him on board. -TH]
Marine scientists in Scotland are set to initiate a £5 million study which could transform seaweeds and marine plant algae into major sources of low emission automobile fuel in Britain. The scientists are calling them the mari-fuels and they hope that fuels produced from the seaweeds and algae would in part replace the controversial biofuels produced from food crops.The study, which will be funded in part by The European Union, would look to formalize the best possible way of exploiting the vast reserves of the seaweeds which are found in great abundance along the British coastline.
The study holds great importance for Britain as it could help it achieve the emissions targets set by the EU. British government would be keening waiting for the outcome of the study as it sees fuels from plants an instrument to reduce or at least neutralize its carbon emissions. Britain wants 2.5 percent of all petrol and diesel to be produced from renewable sources like plants.
The biggest advantage of exploiting biofuels from marine plant algae is that it’s a completely natural process which requires almost no anthropogenic activity. They grow at a much greater rate as compared to the food crops, no environment degrading fertilizers are required and no deforestation. The seaweeds derive energy from ammonia produced as waste from farms of salmon fish. So it’s actually fuel from waste.
Britain has been a leader in adopting biofuels as a replacement for the conventional polluting automobile fuels but as a report noted more than 80 percent of the do not fulfill the quality requirements or address the sustainability issues satisfactorily. It could not be verified if a major portion of the biofuels imported were produced without harming the environment. Producing biofuels locally would not only help address the pollution and sustainaibility issues but would also help Britain achieve the renewable energy and emissions reduction goals set by EU.
Since ammonia is a common by-product of many industrial processes it could be possible to transform effluent treatment plants into mini biofuel factories. By seeding the treatment tanks with plant algae the waste products can be used in the production of biofuels. The possibility makes good economic sense too - the biofuel produced could be sold in the British market or exported plus the treatment plants could also sell carbon credits under the Clean Development Mechanism.
The story of biofuels has had many ups and downs but they cannot be ruled out as a possible replacement to the highly polluting petrol & diesel. Biofuels can be seen as a bridge between the high emission producing conventional auto fuels and the zero-emission fuels of the future. But the key is to improvise and use simple but creative ideas to tap the resources we have.