Can you imagine a biological petroleum which is renewable and absorbs carbon dioxide CO2 in an endless cycle? In Spain, marine biomass is attractive as a renewable source for the production of biofuels.
Spain has situated itself in recent years as the European leader in blue biotechnology. Blue or marine biotechnology is a discipline based on the study by means of different biotechnological techniques of the properties of marine organisms.
Today, around 35% of the fish products that are consumed in the world come from aquaculture. Only on the coasts of the Canaries, Galicia and Andalusia there are more than 7,000 marine species with possible characteristics for their use in biotechnology.
Moreover, the biotechnological material obtained in marine organisms in different sectors has applications in agriculture for obtaining natural fungicides and pesticides, for example; in industrial production and waste treatment by means of algae; in the field of health, where it develops therapeutic and nutraceutical products; and very especially in the field of energy for producing biomass and fuel derivatives.
In Spain, marine biomass is attractive as a renewable source for the production of biofuels for three reasons:
- The production of biomass of marine vegetable matter per unit of area is much higher than those of terrestrial biomass.
- Marine biomass may be depolymerised with relative ease, in comparison with the biomass of terrestrial vegetable matter, due to the fact that it does not contain lignin and crystalline structure of cellulose.
- The rate of carbon dioxide fixation by the marine biomass is much higher.
Regarding production, for certain microalgae as many as six kilos per day of biomass would be produced per two cubic metres. This is thousands of times more than the annual crop of soya, sunflowers or palms, using much less land and less aggressively.
It has been calculated that each kilogramme of biomass derived from algae offers 5,700 kilocalories; as much as coal. They would be therefore be able to feed thermal electricity plants the emitted CO2 of which would serve retroactively to feed the algae that grow in an adjacent plant which in turns produces biofuel, in a closed circle. The algae would digest their own carbon without even needing to transport it. A refinery could do the same.
Therefore, it is considered that algae are the only source of biodiesel able to substitute petroleum in the future. Can you imagine a biological, renewable petroleum which absorbs carbon dioxide CO2 in an endless cycle?
Following the life cycle of algae, marine biomass is easily broken down into fermentable sugars with production rates and distribution ranges which are higher than land terrestrial ones. When algae feed on sugar from the fermentation, its organisms turn this sugar into oils of different categories.
Interrupting the previous cycle, there also exists the possibility of producing biodiesel directly from galactose and other sugars extracted from algae. Even today the low efficiency of the process for obtaining ethanol from the fermentation of these sugars has been the great problem for the manufacture of biofuels.
Nevertheless, this problem may be definitively solved thanks to the recent discovery of genetically modified strains of Saccharomyces cerevisiae yeast. These yeast strains are able to over-express some specific genes which increase the fermentation of galactose by 250%. Its use improves the efficiency of obtaining marine biofuels and would also improve the economic viability of the producers of biofuels from dry macroalgae.
Red algae farms for producing biofuels are a step closer to becoming reality.