UK operation aims to turn seaweed into sustainable energy
An organisation based in the north east of England is spearheading a £2.78m research collaboration designed to strengthen the UK’s position as a world leader in industrial biotechnology. The Centre for Process Innovation (CPI) in Redcar, Teesside, is at the helm of a consortium including Newcastle University experts, which will look at turning seaweed into sustainable energy, producing bio-methane from the organic matter through anaerobic digestion.
The ‘SeaGas’ study launched earlier this month and involves partners The Crown Estate, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), Queen’s University Belfast and Newcastle University.
Together the partners aim to investigate how farmed seaweed could be used as an alternative to feed anaerobic digestion. Traditionally, anaerobic digestion processes use food crops such as maize and beet, but the project aims to develop the alternative in order to limit the need to use prime food-growing agricultural land.
SeaGas will build a storage system to support a year-long anaerobic digestion operation which must allow for different types of seaweed and their availability. It is hoped a supply chain can be developed after the technology is proven and experts working on the project will look at seaweed farming and biogas injection into the national grid.
Funding has come from the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst, which itself is funded by Innovate UK, the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC). Its remit is to support UK researchers and companies in working together to bring biotechnology innovations to market.
Steve Broome, head of business and projects – anaerobic digestion at CPI, said: ‘’This project brings together a powerful consortium that, for the first time ever, joins up the expertise and facilities needed to develop a methodology and commercial rationale for exploiting the UK’s seabed as a source of sustainable biomass and renewable energy. The idea could have remained stuck on paper – but support from the Catalyst has made this innovative and risky project possible.”
Merlin Goldman, lead technologist in high value manufacturing at Innovate UK, said: “The UK’s strength in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy is confirmed by this latest round of funded projects through the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst.”
Professor Mike Cowling, chief scientist at The Crown Estate, which funded the initial pilot study that led to the SeaGas project, added: “Innovate UK’s support for the SeaGas project is a significant vote of confidence in the planned research programme and the strength of the project consortium, led by CPI.
“It is particularly gratifying to see that the results of the initial pilot study have led to this exciting next stage investigation of the commercial viability of the production of bio-methane from seaweeds.”