Marine biomass could serve as power source

By Erin Voegele
Algae have gained a great deal of attention over the past year as a potential source of oil for biodiesel production. However, algae and other forms of marine biomass-kelp, in particular-could have important implications for energy production, as well.

A recent report published by the Scottish Association for Marine Science on behalf of The Crown Estate, the property-holding organization for the British monarchy, detailed the potential production of methane from marine biomass via anaerobic digestion. The methane could be used to generate electricity and heat, or used as compressed natural gas for transportation fuel.

The use of marine biomass could circumvent many of the land and freshwater use issues associated with terrestrial biomass, the report said. In addition, studies investigating the anaerobic digestion of marine biomass have found that marine algae are as good a feedstock as terrestrial sources of biomass.

Due to its lack of lignin and relatively small amounts of cellulose, marine biomass could also be a promising feedstock for cellulosic ethanol production. According to the report, marine biomass is generally made of 25 percent to 30 percent easily degradable carbohydrates.

The report recommended that additional research on the farming and harvesting of marine biomass be conducted. In addition, it said research should explore ways to optimize methane production and investigate the economic aspects of installing necessary infrastructure. As part of this research, the Scottish association recommends the establishment of pilot-scale kelp farms.

At least one American company has plans to implement a marine-biomass-to-power project. BioCentric Energy Inc., a California-based energy solutions research and development company, recently announced details of several algae projects that the company expects to complete over the next three years. As part of an algae-oil-to-biodiesel project in Lake Elsinore, Calif., the company plans to convert algae residue into biogas, which will be used to produce electricity. A similar project is planned for Wuhan, China.