We’ve used up the land, so let’s head to the ocean!
While we should cut carbon emitting sources of fuel altogether, biofuels have benefits. Biofuels are renewable resources that lack severe greenhouse gas emissions and the extraction atrocities associated with traditional oil-based fuels. The caveat surrounding biofuels is the abundance of land and freshwater resources they require. To overcome this problem, scientists have turned from the plants of the land to the forests of the sea—I’m talking about seaweed!
Seaweed grows fast, yielding a potential ten times more organic matter per year than land-based (non-GM) crops. Seaweed can also be more easily converted to fuel because it lacks lignin—the compound necessary to support land-grown plants.
So it grows fast, breaks down easily, and doesn’t use up rare resources, great!
However, a few major points scare me.
First, using seaweed as a biofuel would require cultivation—farming in the ocean. Second, it spreads the bigger idea, quoted from ABC Science of, “Thinking Blue,” or thinking about how we can spread industry in the ocean, in addition to the land. We don’t need to be reminded of how spreading industry on land has effected environmental resources. When was the last time you saw bison roaming the plains of Iowa? When was the last time you saw plains in Iowa?
With only a small percentage of our oceans protected, it seems unlikely that a growing industry in the blue would bode well for the marine resources we try so hard to protect.
That being said, I do think there is potential for effective sustainable seaweed biofuel production. If seaweed is planted in areas of fertilizer runoff, the seaweed could grow without additional aid and curb the negative environmental effects of nearby farming.
It could work, but it comes down to responsible implementation that doesn’t open the flood gates to developing the sea.
Here is some more information on biofuels: