Marine Algae a New Opportunity for Global Ethanol Market

Globally, industrial activities and the quality of human lives are inextricably linked and both rely on the use of fossil energy sources, such as coal, natural gas, or oil.  Unfortunately, this fossil fuel dependence of modern societies has several noteworthy ramifications, which are inclusive of but not limited to acid rain, deterioration of air quality, global warming, and oil spills, which have direct and severe consequences on human health and the quality of the environment.  For example, the modes of transports are almost entirely dependent on fossil fuels and use more the half of the global fossil fuels produced and are responsible for the emission of a high proportion of carbon monoxide and occupy a significant share of CO2 in the atmosphere. Additional concerns related to fossil fuel is that of the continuous depletion of fossil fuel resources. Further, if consumption is to remain at the current levels, it has been estimated that in Europe the oil resources Europe will be exhausted in 40 years, the gas resources will be completely depleted in 60 years, and the coal resources will be exhausted in 200 years.

ethanol market

As a result, a quite few nations would be compelled to import fossil fuels, which will lead to a significant increase in sales prices. Such negative outcomes related to the consumption of fossil fuels have determined the orientation of scientific research towards finding new sources of clean energy, through the use of renewable resources which would be in tandem with sustainable development principles, and this trend is also supported by the international political regulations. One particular path that can lead to the fruition of minimizing the consumption of fossil fuels is the use of biofuels derived from renewable resources. It is widely accepted that biofuels are an excellent alternative to traditional fossil fuels, mainly because they can be obtained from large available and renewable feedstock, as biomass, and their utilization generates relatively low levels of greenhouse gas and other pollutants.  

Out of all the available biofuels, bioethanol has received significant attention, because it is the most widely used liquid biofuel for motor vehicles and production of green energy, and these numerous utilizations have determined the rapid growth of the market for this kind of biofuel. This recognition also necessitates renewed investments to identify a suitable raw material for the production of bioethanol, which must be efficient both economically and technologically. This because it is impractical for the price of bioethanol to be more than the price of conventional fuels. Further, the selection of adequate biomass for bioethanol manufacturing must take into account factors such as bioethanol yield, conversion technologies, environmental impact, use of land for cultivation, as well as advantages and disadvantages of each category of biomass. These are an important determinant for the biofuel to be accessible in the market due to its comparatively low final price. Further, the production should not encroach upon the available land for cultivating food crops thus ensuring food security. Thus, arises the need for using a new kind of raw material for the production of bioethanol which can potentially extricate the global energy market from the Scylla of global environmental deterioration and the Charybdis of complete energy resource depletion.

The chemicals and materials industry is currently challenged with identifying the appropriate biomass which can be used as raw material for the production of bioethanol. Further, the ideal properties of the raw ingredient are that it should be carbohydrate-rich and should be widespread. Additionally, such biomass should not need agricultural inputs like fertilizers, land, and water, and most importantly should not be a part of the food chain both animals and human. Marine algae can potentially be the type o biomass that fits the aforesaid criteria. Marine algae (usually called seaweeds) are pluri-cellular biological organisms whose size may vary ranging from a small microscopic size (3–10μm) to large microscopic shapes (less than 70 m). From a biological perspective, unlike plants, the roots of marine algae are essentially thallus leaf, albeit sharing certain features of plants like leaves and stems. Arguments that are in favor of utilizing marine algae as raw materials for bioethanol are inclusive of but not limited to their high availability in many regions of the world and low cost of preparation. Nevertheless, with regards to the collection of marine algae naturally occurring in the sea certain considerations are required to be taken into account which is, among others, the number of marine algae that is harvested is heavily reliant on the season and climatic conditions which may impact the continuity of production.

However, cultivation of marine algae in specialized farms using open-pound technology, and the naturally grown marine algae to be used additionally, when they meet the qualifying conditions required for the raw material, is a prospective solution to the above.  In August 2020, a company called Ocean Rainforest has reportedly raised US$1.5 million in an investment round led by the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), which contributed $850,000. This investment would enable Ocean Rainforest to deploy new farms at a scale equipping the organization to meet the growing need for seaweeds. Earlier in June the same year, the company had signed a contract with the ARPA-E (Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy) to conduct the 2nd phase of its pioneering seaweed cultivation project called “MacroSystems” in California.  

Also, in December 2020, a biologist at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee’s College of Letters and Science has reportedly received substantial federal funding to unlock the potential of giant kelp which are usually widespread in Milwaukee and is known to be fast-growing seaweed in the Pacific Ocean to be used as the source for biofuel. Besides, suitable cultivation systems too must be designed for the efficient harvesting from wild stocks to make marine algae a feasible raw material for the production of bioethanol. These factors have necessitated the increase in the economic viability of technological processes used to produce bioethanol, which involves the solving of technological particularities, the minimizing of energy consumption, and the time required to manufacture resulting in a competitive bioethanol cost. Thus, the natural segment is expected to increase its share in the global ethanol market resulting in the latter’s growth during the forecast.