Researchers at NUI Galway’s Ryan Institute are involved in a major €14 million European initiative to develop the potential of algae as a source of sustainable energy.
As a partner in the project, NUI Galway is responsible for the initial step of producing some of the biomass required for conversion to biofuel. This will be accomplished by cultivating macroalgae (seaweed) biomass at sea in a one-hectare pilot facility.
NUI Galway’s part of the ‘EnAlgae’ project is valued at almost €1.2 million, over the next four years. Currently, algal bioenergy technologies are immature, but rapid advances are being made in the field.
The project will focus on the cultivation of some of Ireland’s native kelp species, including large brown seaweeds, commonly seen cast up on the beach after a storm. Growth of the seaweed crop occurs in two phases, the first phase of which is being carried out at the Ryan Institute’s Carna Research Station in Co. Galway.
“In our facilities here, microscopic stages of the algae are cultured and sprayed onto ropes. Once the seaweed has been ‘seeded’ onto hundreds of metres of rope, they are deployed at sea in the one-hectare experimental plot in Ventry Harbour, Co. Kerry,” said Dr Maeve Edwards, Research Scientist at the Martin Ryan Institute’s Carna facility.
Seaweed will also be cultivated in Northern Ireland and Brittany in France, with NUI Galway coordinating the cultivation efforts between all three institutions.
Professor Colin Brown, Director of the Ryan Institute at NUI Galway, said he was delighted by the institution’s involvement in the project.
“Ireland and the European Union recognise the need to reduce our dependence on dwindling petroleum stocks and are promoting the use of biofuels. I am delighted to see that bright young researchers in the Ryan Institute have spotted the opportunity to engage in international and innovative research into a source of biomass - in this case, seaweed - whose conversion to biofuels could help in the transformation of the transport sector.”
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