Scientists in the US managed to grow kelp in large quantitates in the open ocean as a source of biofuel energy, according to the University of Southern California (USC) on Tuesday.
A new aquaculture method on the California coast involves a process called “the kelp elevator” that optimizes the growth of these large brown algae seaweeds by raising and lowering them to different depths, scientists at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies found.
The process dramatically increases kelp growth, yielding four times more biomass than natural processes, the USC said.
In natural methods, harvesting biomass feedstocks from corn, sugarcane, and other farm crops produce biofuels that power cars, jet airplanes, ships, and big trucks.
The new process, however, makes it possible to grow kelp in the open ocean that yields low-carbon biofuel with less environmental impact.
Kelp is a better option than usual biomass feedstocks for two reasons: first, ocean crops do not compete for freshwater, agricultural land, or artificial fertilizers; and second, ocean farming does not threaten important habitats when land is cultivated, according to the USC.
“Forging new pathways to make biofuel requires proving that new methods and feedstocks work,” said Diane Young Kim, the corresponding author of the study and associate director of special projects at the USC Wrigley Institute.
“This experiment on the Southern California coast is an important step because it demonstrates kelp can be managed to maximize growth,” she added.
While 7% of the US’ transportation fuel still comes from major food crops, almost all of it is corn-based ethanol, according to the National Research Council.
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