A car in Denmark was recently the first in the world to drive 80 kilometres on a fuel blend containing biofuel from seaweed.
This successful experiment stemmed from the EU’s Horizon 2020 MacroFuels project.
Wageningen Food & Biobased Research in the Netherlands produced the biobutanol from sugars in seaweed.
Also involved were the Dutch technological institute, TNO, and the Danish Technological Institute (DTI).
TNO produced a raw material from seaweed, from which biobutanol was in turn made in Wageningen.
The biobutanol was mixed with conventional petrol, to make 100 litres of B10 fuel containing biobutanol.
The results of engine tests showed that this mix is just as suitable as conventional fuels.
The test car delivered comparable performance, and the emission results also matched.
Some seaweeds are naturally rich in sugars (up to 50%), which makes them very suitable as a raw material for high-quality biofuels.
In the MacroFuels project, a fermentation process was developed to convert the sugars into biobutanol.
Technological developments such as these are needed to be able to replace liquid fossil fuels with sustainable biofuels, so that greenhouse gas emissions can be reduced.
The challenge, if using seaweed, is to scale up production of seaweeds using sustainable cultivation methods, and to lower the costs of these seaweeds, to allow economical delivery of biofuels or other products.
An EU directive requires the share of renewable fuels for transport to reach 14% by 2030 at the latest, and 3.5% must come from advanced biofuels, for which seaweed is one of the candidate raw materials.
Furthermore, the EU has proposed to reduce the use of land-based biomass for production of biofuels. Seaweed is a good alternative, because it is one of the fastest-growing plants at Northern EU latitudes, needing only carbon dioxide, oxygen, sunlight and the nutrients which are already present in the sea.
Growing seaweed does not need scarce resources such as fresh water, arable land, or fertilisers.
By cultivating seaweed in a rotating crop scheme, the MacroFuels project will expand biomass availability for production of advanced biofuels. This will dramatically reduce the cost price, and boost the availability of seaweed.
The MacroFuels project started in January 2016, and is now coming to an end.
The high levels of protein in some seaweed species, and the high mineral content, offer possibilities of animal feed and mineral fertiliser by-products, when producing advanced biofuels from seaweeds.