Research Institute TNO has recently opened a seaweed processing laboratory. There, the seaweed can be split into its constituent parts in order to conduct research into biofuel, nutrition and textiles.
The lab can dry and split fifty kilos of seaweed a day, separating it into minerals, sugars and proteins. TNO will then conduct further research to gain better knowledge of the seaweed and to bring possible applications even closer.
Seaweed is a versatile crop. It grows very quickly and does not require costly agricultural land. There are numerous applications, from medication to biofuel. It therefore comes as no surprise that seaweed farms are booming in the Netherlands. Another new one of a hectare is to start up late this year. It's owned by The Seaweed Company, a Dutch company that will work off the coast of Ireland.
FOOD IS PROFITABLE
For now, most of the seaweed farms are focusing on the food market. That is where profits are to be made, despite the farms often being small and relatively labour intensive due to their pioneering nature. However, The Seaweed Company aims to quickly scale up its farm to tens of hectares, making biofuel a possible future application.
TNO wishes to research how best to convert seaweed into an efficient, semi-sustainable fuel. The Institute has calculated that conversion of 8 to 9% of the North Sea into a seaweed farm would supply enough energy for 85% of Dutch households. The question now is whether conversion of nearly 10% of the sea into a farm is realistic (problematic for shipping routes, harvesting of offshore seaweed is time-consuming and expensive), but it certainly shows potential.
The seaweed lab will also study whether it is possible to use a single piece of seaweed for multiple purposes. The Seaweed Company is thinking along the same lines. If the sugars and proteins can be used for food, the remainder could be converted into biogas in a reactor. This would allow optimum use of each part of the seaweed.
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