Sat, Jan 12, 2008 - Page 2 News List

Algae eyed as biofuel alternative

'ALGOHOL' Researchers will study two species of algae for their suitability as raw materials for biofuel and `algal ethanol' in upcoming government-funded experiments

STAFF WRITER, WITH CNA

The government has decided to fund experiments on turning two macroscopic algae into the raw materials for biofuel production, expanding sources from land plants to marine flora as prices for oil and grain continue to increase, Council of Agriculture (COA) officials said.

The two chosen subjects for the experiments are gracilaria and sargassum, they said, adding that both are rich in polysaccharide that can be transformed to ethanol (alcohol) to produce gasohol.

They said the "algal ethanol" can be an alternative ingredient for commercial gasohol once production capacity achieves sufficient economy of scale.

"Algae is not a choice that comes out of the blue," they said.

Researchers worldwide have long intended to apply lipid-laced algae to biofuel production but have been hampered by high extraction costs and low conversion rates.

According to the COA, gracilaria -- a genus of red algae -- has been widely farmed along the coast of Taiwan for decades, as it is a food source for humans as well as various species of farmed shellfish. The farming area of gracilaria was 253 hectares in 2006.

However, the officials said that demand for gracilaria dropped several years ago and COA researchers at the Fisheries Research Institute started studies to discover possible alternative uses.

"We have found that gracilaria contains compounds suitable for cosmetics, and now we hope we can prove it is also valuable for biofuel," a researcher said. "In the case of the sargassum, we chose it for its high output volume."

According to a previous study, sargassum has 10 times the output volume of gracilaria.

Aside from its other benefits the algae can also serve as an ecology-balancing agent as it absorbs carbon dioxide and prevents eutrophication in bodies of water, the officials said.

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