Converting washed-up seaweed into biofuel

​In the Cypriot coastal city of Larnaka, the Municipality wants to help both the environment and their locality. Keeping their beaches in top form means costly efforts to clean up the huge amounts of algae that wash ashore. On average, more than 10 tons of seagrass are cleared annually, costing the Municipality an average of €120,000. They want to turn this biomass problem into an opportunity by converting the washed-up seagrass into biofuel.​

Larnaka’s seaweed problem was taken up by Blue Deal who promoted the challenge on konfer, to bring in expertise from UK businesses and academics to find solutions.​

At the University of York, the Centre for novel Agricultural Products (CNAP) has been using science to underpin industrial and environmental biotechnology for more than 20 years. They have a long tradition of harnessing nature’s power to solve some of today’s most pressing problems. ​

CNAP’s Thierry Tonon submitted a research proposal to Blue Deal and said it was a great opportunity to use their experience and expertise in the analysis and applications of land plant and seaweed biomass to produce bioenergy and chemicals. ​

The proposal aimed to transform the beached seagrass into energy and help balance the associated harvesting costs of the waste biomass, and potentially provide new revenue streams for the local economy. In the longer term, our proposal could be used as a platform for the production of biorenewable energy using other waste biomass in the area. ​

‘My colleague shared the call from konfer with me, and the process of getting involved was really simple. I welcomed the chance to use our research to address this real challenge and participating in the Blue Deal competition gave a very welcome window to our work, especially among our contemporaries in Europe’.

Previously at the University of Hertfordshire and now at Nottingham Trent University, Wenbin Zhang’s research includes net zero, carbon capture and sustainable and bio energy. Wenbin submitted a research proposal via konfer.

His proposal on the seaweed challenge suggested a sustainable route to treat seaweed, in terms of self-sustained energy supply, clean water recycling and CO2 capture, recycling and utilization. He wanted to develop a technology which removed the need for drying, producing net zero or even negative CO2 emissions. The system would act as a distributed energy supplier, producing heat and electricity, as well as high purity clean water for use onsite and nearby. ​

His proposal made it to the competition final, and he presented his research ideas at the Business Forum, which aims to increase awareness and analysis of energy challenges, as well as generating regional and transnational alliances.​

Wenbin said: ‘Presenting at the Business Forum event gave me real insights into latest thinking in sustainable energy technology and industry views from across Europe. I made some useful contacts and will be following up on these connections in the future’.​

International organisations are increasingly looking to the UK’s ground-breaking research base to help solve their challenges and konfer was played an important part in connecting UK research and expertise with the BLUE DEAL challenges.

Read the collaboration call here.