Marine BioEnergy is a startup that is currently researching alternative sources of renewable energy. They have designed a prototype called a “kelp elevator.” This is a long tube with seaweed growing on it which can be moved up and down in the water to access sunlight and nutrients. If all goes according to plan, the startup want to use similar technology, driven by robotic submarines, to begin farming large tracts of the open ocean between California and Hawaii. Marine BioEnergy believe that by using elevators to grow kelp farther out in ocean waters, they can harvest the kelp and convert it into carbon-neutral biocrude that could be used to make gasoline or jet fuel.
The founders behind this innovative idea – Brian and Cindy Wilcox, are confident that they will be able to grow enough seaweed to put a dent in the fuel market. “We think we can make fuel at a price that’s competitive with the fossil fuel that’s in use today,” says Cindy Wilcox.
Kelp is typically found on the coast and doesn’t grown in the open ocean. However, Brian Wilcox, a manager of space robotics technology at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, believes that it is possible. By moving kelp up and down in a process called depth cycling, kelp can still access nutrients and light in the open ocean. In the right conditions kelp can grow more than one foot a day.
The startup received a grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s ARPA-E to test the validity of the concept which is now in its early stages. Marine BioEnergy are also working with Pacific Northwest National Laboratory which has developed a process to convert kelp to biocrude. Over the next two and a half years, the startup will run tests and pilot studies to determine how kelp responds when depth cycled. If all goes as planned, they will then head out to the open ocean for additional testing.
IMAGE CREDIT:mihtiander / 123RF Stock Photo
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