Published on March 10th, 2012 | by Tina Casey2
Ecofys Bets on a Wind Power and Seaweed Biofuel Mashup
The Dutch company Ecofys has just launched a new offshore wind farm and seaweed cultivation pilot project in a renewable energy twofer that could yield a big boost for biofuel production while harvesting wind power, too. Ecofys is betting that areas reserved for offshore wind production will provide seaweed with a nursery where it can grow in peace, undisturbed by human maritime activities – the catch is, can seaweed farms survive the offshore environment?
Despite its high water content, seaweed as a biofuel crop is becoming attractive to researchers for a variety of reasons, including its general lack of hard fibers that need to be broken down. The availability of space for cultivation is another factor, as biofuel crops on land need to compete with food crops for space. In addition to providing biomass for biofuel refineries, seaweed cultivated at wind farms could also be used as a protein source for animal and fish feed.
A sustainability threefer for seaweed – wind farms
Typically, wind farms are closed to commercial fishing and shipping, so all else being equal seaweed can grow at wind farms without disruption. That “all else” includes ambient environmental conditions, so the new project will assess how well cultivated seaweed thrives in the North Sea. Aside from wind energy and seaweed production, the project will also assess a third benefit, which is the attraction of fish and other marine life to the cultivation site, including the potential for fish to use the site for breeding.
Offshore seaweed cultivation
Aside from renewable energy and environmental benefits, the test site will also demonstrate how well the hardware of seaweed cultivation weathers offshore conditions. The test module is a 20 by 20 meter site delineated by steel cables, located in a former sand mining area about ten kilometers west of the Dutch island Texel. The cables are anchored in place about two meters under the surface and they support nets, to which several species of seaweed native to the North Sea have been attached. Ecofys expects the first harvest to be ready as early as this June and the project will continue for approximately one year.
All hands on deck for seaweed wind farm
Though relatively small in scale, the pilot project involved a complex permitting and construction process which will have to be streamlined if the system is to become commercially viable. It also involved a network of public and private partners in addition to Ecofys, including Eneco, ECN, BLIX, Van Beelen Netting, Pipelife, Ocean Harvest, VIRO, De Vries & Van de Wiel, the Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research, local contractors and funding from the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation.
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