- Biofuel production is plagued by two main issues. The first is a conflict with food crops for the production of biofuel feedstocks consisting primarily of simple sugars. By using crops for energy, we may reduce the amount available for food.
- The second involves the type of feedstock used. Microbes such as E. coli and Saccharomyces cerevisiae can only convert simple sugars to ethanol and are not able to convert cellulosic materials (e.g. wood biomass or seaweed alginate) to ethanol. This makes it difficult to find alternative materials, and alleviate reliance on crop production.
- Researchers may have identified solutions to both issues by bioengineering a microbe capable of converting alginate (from seaweed) into ethanol. Seaweed is already produced in large quantities, does not compete with agriculture and may provide a scalable solution to biofuel production. Add in the fact that seaweed does not need to be fertilised, instead absorbing diffuse nutrient run-off, and the end result may be a cleaner marine environment.
With the UK’s extensive coast line and expansive marine environment there is an excellent opportunity to commit to seaweed production and thus creating a biofuel feedstock that does not compete with agricultural production.
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