Posted by: ecodestination | April 2, 2009

Slimy algae = clean energy

Sargassum muticum attached to rocks on sandy bottom in San Francisco Bay (photo - Andrew N. Cohen)

Sargassum muticum attached to rocks on sandy bottom in San Francisco Bay (photo - Andrew N. Cohen)

Taking a nuisance or plague and turning it into something useful—that’s using your noggin’. The seaweed clogging up the seaport in Venice is about to be converted into a source of clean energy. Genius.

Two kinds of slime algae, Sargassum muticum and Undaria pinnatifida, have been annoying Venetians for a while now. Brought over from the Sargassi Sea and Japan on ships, the algae made the navigation of gondolas and ferry boats in Venice troublesome.

Now, Italy has announced an eco project to harvest the seaweed in the canals and turning it into green (emissions-free) energy. It will cost 200 million Euros—but it’s worth it, don’t you think?

The algae will fuel a power plant. Whoa. And it will be ready in two years’ time. I’m not done: it will produce enough energy to power half of Venice’s city center (40 megawatts). The only thing missing is the final authorization (not everyone’s so keen on the 200 million Euros factor of the project…).

Here are the details: “The algae will be cultivated in laboratories and put in plastic cylinders where water, carbon dioxide, and sunshine can trigger photosynthesis. The resulting biomass will be treated further to produce a fuel to turn turbines. The carbon dioxide produced in the process will be fed back to the algae, resulting in zero emissions from the plant.”

I’d like to see some more numbers: how long will it take for the algae energy production to save Italy the 200 million Euros to be invested in the project? Is it financially sound, or only environmentally (the algae-run plant would help offset the carbon emissions of ships docked in the Venetian seaport)? I would guess both, since Enalg, a renewable energy services company, is teaming up to collaborate on the project. Money’s always a crucial factor in these issues; well, usually. We humans sure are greedy.

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