Saccharina latissima, aka Sugar Kelp. Photo: intertidal-novascotia.blogspot.com

Saccharina latissima, aka Sugar Kelp. Photo: intertidal-novascotia.blogspot.com

Studies conducted by EnAlgae partners in Ireland, France and Belgium point the way to seaweed being a viable and sustainable feedstock for the future in North West Europe (NWE). This is the conclusion of a new paper entitled “Comparative environmental life cycle assessment of two seaweed cultivation systems in NWE with a focus on quantifying sea surface occupation” published by Sue Ellen Taelman et al.

For the study, the cultivation of Saccharina latissima was studied on both the west coast of Ireland at National University of Ireland in Galway, and in Northern France at CEVA – the Centre D’Etude et de Valorisation des Algues in Brittany.

The study found that the resource footprint of seaweed production in NWE is lower when compared to the footprint of microalgae (Nannochloropsis sp.) and similar to the ones of terrestrial plants such as sugar beets, maize and potatoes.

“There is great potential to reduce the resource footprint of seaweed cultivation when this technology is implemented on a larger scale and becomes more efficient by using less transport and electricity. Furthermore, the biomass productivity can still increase significantly (especially in France),” concludes the report.

“With respect to the type of resources used, more fossil resources are consumed during marine biomass production while more land resources are used for terrestrial biomass production.”

“It seems that marine biomass meets the requirements to reduce pressure on land and fresh water because it grows in marine environments. As it is expected that the energy mix will become more renewable, it is anticipated that the footprint of seaweed production will be even smaller in the future. At that point, seaweed could be cultivated as a sustainable feedstock in (North West) Europe as it avoids much of the competition for land and fresh water.”

The EnAlgae project is led by Swansea University and funded by the European Union under the INTERREG IVB North West Europe program. EnAlgae unites experts and observers from 7 EU member states to determine the potential benefits of algae as a future sustainable energy source.

The manuscript and supporting information are available here.