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Sea Squirts Could Provide Renewable Biofuel Feedstock

Sea Squirts Could Provide Renewable Biofuel Feedstock

Image source: Inge Døskeland

When trying to produce a viable and sustainable biofuel, one that can be produced from renewable resources and used in conventional combustion engines, one of the big hangups is the need to use large tracts of land to grow the feedstock.

But technologies such as algae biofuel are promising more efficient land use in biofuel production, and it turns out that another great source for biofuel feedstock can be found in the ocean, in the form of the sea squirt.

Researchers at the University of Bergen (UiB) and Uni Research have identified a specific kind of tunicate, ascidiacea, as great candidate for producing biofuel, as well as fish food for aquaculture systems.

According to UiB, these tunicates are particularly suited for use as biofuel because of the cellulose content of their mantle, which can be efficiently converted into ethanol. No other animals are said to depend on ascidiacea for their food source, so there wouldn’t be an interruption in the food chain if they were harvested. They also have a high growth rate, one that “exceeds most land-based feedstock”, and they can be found in all oceans around the world.

Although these tunicates are said to be able to yield 200 kg per square meter of ocean surface area, there are a number of questions about how a growing system could achieve those yields repetitively, as well as how efficiently the organisms could be processed, and what the effects would be on the ecosystem if the tunicates were harvested on a large scale.

The researchers received a prize of NOK 300,000 for innovative research with their work and will use it to create commercially viable products from their work, such as a patented biofuel process and fish food source.

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