Opportunities and Risks of Seaweed Biofuels in Aviation
by Marika Andersen (Bellona) Today, Bellona publishes its new report on the potential and challenges of using seaweed biofuels in aviation. The report provides comprehensive recommendations for researchers, public authorities and consumers. By mapping existing knowledge and practice, sustainability and development of the technology, Bellona comes to the conclusion that the use of seaweed biofuel can unlock great potentials, while addressing many of the challenges associated with conventional biofuels.
In its native Norway, Bellona has extensive experience with related issues, such as Arctic and marine transport, and is a co-founder of large-scale projects involving biomass production such as the project Ocean Forest and Sahara Forest Projects.
When it comes to cutting emissions from transport, shipping and aviation are often referred to as the elephant in the room: having been excluded from the Paris agreement and being inadequately addressed under existing UN conventions and EU legislation. Yet these are the two sectors with the most rapidly increasing greenhouse gas emissions. Aviation in particular accounts for the largest increase in CO2 emissions from transport, 2% of CO2 emissions on a global scale, and the share is growing. Emissions from global aviation have more than doubled over last 20 years, and the sector is expected to grow by at least 5% every year towards 2030, coupled with an increasing demand for fuel.
In combination with fish farming: When cultivation of seaweed is located in proximity to fish farms, seaweed can use the excess, otherwise wasted, nutrients and thereby ensure recycling and cleaning of the surrounding waters, which may otherwise suffer from over-supply of nutrients. It has been documented that kelp can remove between 30-100% of dissolved nitrogen produced by fish farming (Leonczek, 2013).
In combination with CCS: Seaweed biofuels in combination with carbon capture and storage (BECCS/Bio-CCS) holds the potential to deliver negative emissions, removing excess CO2 from the atmosphere over time. Carbon capture can be done at a biorefining facility that makes biofuels from seaweed or at a facility that combusts the seaweed directly for heat and power.
Existing knowledge and practice: In Norway, brown kelp species like cuvie (Laminaria hyperborean), Norwegian kelp (Ascophyllum nododsum) and in particular sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima) are already being harvested. Compared to Asia, industrial seaweed cultivation in Europe is in the very early developmental phase and comprises only a few species. There is therefore a golden opportunity to design a high-potential industry effectively from scratch. There are currently 18 different companies that have received a license to operate seaweed plants in Norway in 26 different locations on the west coast from Rogaland to Nordland.
Sustainability of marine biofuels: Wild seaweed populations are an essential component for preserving biodiversity of marine ecosystems and wild harvest should therefore be contained and regulated according to the carrying capacity of the ecosystem. There are local impacts on nutrient competition with phytoplankton, and more research must be carried out for impacts on the local ecosystem, as well as actual life cycle emissions.
Development of marine biorefining industry: There are economic challenges related to the currently high costs of growing, harvesting, preserving/storing and pre-treating the seaweed coupled with inadequate demand. There are also unreliable bioenergy policies… READ MORE