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June 27, 2013

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Seaweed has strong potential as biofuel

There is powerful potential to engineer a viable, sustainable biofuel industry from seaweed, a University of Victoria graduate student’s research indicates.

Mechanical engineering student Aaron Philippsen examined the subject for his Master’s thesis and determined there is significant capacity and economic promise for a sustainable seaweed bioenergy industry in BC.

The study is the first look at the logistics and engineering required, assessing whether it makes sense to further examine brown seaweed (Saccharina latissima), which can be readily farmed and is already popular for use in food and cosmetic products, as an alternative fuel source, Philippsen says. He looked specifically at whether the potential ethanol output is worth the greenhouse gas emissions and energy required for the system to be profitable and sustainable.

“This research shows that there is good reason to look at this in more depth,” Philippsen says. “There is definitely more research to be done to design a truly sustainable seaweed bioenergy industry, but we’ve shown that fuel made from farmed seaweed can be produced with reasonable energy input and minimal greenhouse gas emissions.”

Philippsen adds that as research progresses, consultation will be needed with various stakeholders, including First Nations, environmental groups, and the general public.

“Seaweed is a foundational part of our coastal cultures and the ocean ecosystem, and that will play a critical role in determining the feasibility of seaweed-based fuel in BC,” he says.

Philippsen is working with his advisors, UVic professors Dr. Peter Wild and Dr. Andrew Rowe, to rewrite his thesis into an article for submission to a peer-reviewed scientific journal.

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Mitch Wright (UVic Communications) at 250-721-6139 or mwwright@uvic.ca


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