The three year project – ‘SeaGas’ – is working on producing bio-methane from seaweed through anaerobic digestion (AD). The project launched in July 2015 and consists of six partners including The Crown Estate, the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture Science (Cefas), the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), Queen’s University Belfast and Newcastle University.
As a founding partner of the High Value Manufacturing Catapult, CPI will lead the consortium, the aim being to develop a process that uses seaweed for the generation of sustainable energy by AD. Traditionally, as well as agricultural and food wastes, AD processes use food crops such as maize and beet. However, farmed seaweed could be used as an alternative feedstock for the AD process, thereby limiting the use of prime agricultural land that can be used for growing food crops.
A novel storage system will be developed – to support a 12-month AD operation – to counter seaweed availability and variability. The project will facilitate uptake by AD end users and initiate the building of a viable supply chain for farming and storage of seaweed.
The SeaGas project will bring together expertise in AD process development, seaweed growth and storage, economic modelling, environmental and social impact assessment and the supply chain – from seabed access for seaweed farming through to biogas injection into the national grid. It hopes to be a platform for further exploitation of seaweed in other applications.
The project has been awarded £2.78 million over three years as part of the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst. The Catalyst was set up in January 2014 and is funded by Innovate UK,the Biotechnology and Biosciences Research Council (BBSRC) and the Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) to support UK researchers and companies and work together to bring their biotechnology innovations to market.
Steve Broome, Head of Business and Projects – AD at CPI, said: ‘’This project brings together a powerful consortium that, for the first time ever, joins up the expertise and facilities needed to develop a methodology and commercial rationale for exploiting the UK’s seabed as a source of sustainable biomass and renewable energy. The idea could have remained stuck on paper – but support from the Catalyst has made this innovative and risky project possible.
Merlin Goldman, Lead Technologist in high value manufacturing at Innovate UK, said; ‘’The UK’s strength in industrial biotechnology and bioenergy is confirmed by this latest round of funded projects through the Industrial Biotechnology Catalyst’’.
Prof Mike Cowling, Chief Scientist at The Crown Estate, which funded the initial pilot study that led to the SeaGas project, said: “Innovate UK’s support for the SeaGas project is a significant vote of confidence in the planned research programme and the strength of the project consortium, led by CPI. It is particularly gratifying to see that the results of the initial pilot study have led to this exciting next stage investigation of the commercial viability of the production of bio-methane from seaweeds.”