The €6 million BioMara research project - investigating the feasibility of using algae to produce biofuel - is launched today by Scotland's Energy Minister, Jim Mather. With the European Parliament calling for 10% of road transport fuel to come from renewable sources by 2020, sustainable, industrial-scale biofuel production has become an urgent challenge.
BioMara has received €4,874,414 from the European Union’s INTERREG IVA Programme, with additional funding from Highlands and Islands Enterprise, the Crown Estate, Northern Ireland Executive and the Irish Government.
The project’s lead scientist, Dr Michele Stanley, explains: “With global fossil fuel supplies dwindling and atmospheric carbon dioxide levels affecting climate change, there is an urgent need for new, renewable fuel sources with low net carbon emissions.
“Conventional biofuel crops compete for land and fresh water with farming and nature. What we need is fast-growing, easily utilised plants which thrive in environments not used for agriculture or conservation.
“Marine algae could be part of the solution. Seaweeds grow rapidly, harness carbon dioxide and have simple structures which make them easily converted to fuel.”
Dr Stanley continues: "Much research and development is needed to unleash the potential for algal biofuels. As well as seaweeds, we will investigate which strains of microalgae are most suitable for oil production and cultivation on an industrial scale.”
She goes on: “BioMara will investigate every part of the energy-supply chain, from cultivation of the algae to fuel utilisation in remote communities.”
Much of BioMara’s focus will be on supporting biofuel production and utilisation in remote, rural communities.
Laila Sadler, spokesperson for BioMara said: “Effectively, seaweed harvested off a beach in the Outer Isles could be heating a crofter’s kettle for their cup of tea the next morning.”
Jim Mather, Minister for Enterprise, Energy and Tourism said: “The Biomara project is an innovative project at the cutting edge of marine renewable energy technology. This £5 million investment, supported by the European Union, provides for a pioneering, cross border collaboration between Scottish, Irish and Northern Irish partners and represents a major addition to the significant portfolio of renewable and green energy activity already underway in Scotland.
“Scotland has a fantastic competitive advantage in developing offshore renewables - with a quarter of the Europe's tidal and offshore wind energy resource, and a world class scientific capacity and skills base and the current financial downturn illustrates the importance of capitalising on these unique assets. The potential for green energy is limitless – the sector is forecast to create some 16,000 jobs over the next decade.
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to visit Biomara and launch this exciting project. It is a further boost to Argyll and the West Coast following last week’s announcement that Skykon are to take over the Vestas wind turbine manufacturing plant in Campbeltown, supporting over 450 jobs in the long term, and will motivate even more young local people to be part of these new developments.”
Pat Colgan, Chief Executive of the Special EU Programmes Body, which manages the INTERREG IVA Programme said: “With its integrated response to the challenge of reducing CO2 emissions by developing alternative sources of energy based on marine biomass, BioMara provides an excellent example of co-operation for a sustainable cross-border region.”
Partners come from the University of Strathclyde; Queen's University, Belfast; the University of Ulster; the Dundalk Institute of Technology; and the Institute of Technology, Sligo.