Baltic algae could become source of energy
Environment Institute examines use of algae as potential biofuel
The Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE) is looking into the possibility of converting plankton algae into biological fuel, and is examining the feasibility of turning species of algae that are present in the Baltic Sea into sources of energy.
The institute is also looking into the possibility of growing algae as a way of cleaning the Baltic.
The algae research is part of an international project called “Submariner”, which is aimed at finding new ways to combine economic activities with the rehabilitation of the maritime ecosystem.
“Plankton algae mainly consist of proteins, lipids, and hydrocarbons. The lipids - fat compounds - are raw material for oil, and extracting the lipids from algae cells gives us raw materials for biological fuel”, says special researcher Jukka Seppälä.
Seppälä sees growing algae as viable option in the production of bioenergy in the future.
He notes that growing algae would not be in competition with agricultural production or forestry.
Algae produces much more fat compounds than a palm tree that produces palm oil.
For now, however, production is too expensive to be a feasible alternative to fossil fuels.
Oil extracted from algae actually costs about 100 times more than regular oil.
“Commercial production might be possible in 15 to 20 years at the earliest”, Seppälä says.
The SYKE maritime laboratory has different types of algae growing in bottles and other containers.
By comparing the growth of different species of algae, the scientists hope to ascertain which ones are the best for oil production, and how production could be maximised.
Seppälä also sees the production of algae for energy as a way of cleaning the polluted Baltic Sea, but for now that is also not economically viable.
Algae is being grown experimentally in the Gulf of Finland and in the Archipelago Sea.
Structures made of rope and webbing have been placed in the sea in Tvärminne and Rymättylä for algae to grow on.
As algae grows, it absorbs nutrients in the water.
When the cultivated algae is removed, the nutrients are also removed from the sea, which helps clean the water. Algae is commercially grown primarily as raw material for the cosmetics industry.
Last year more than five million kilos of dry algae was produced worldwide, at a market price of EUR 250 a kilo.
Finnish Environment Institute (SYKE)