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Global fossil fuels supplies dwindling


SUSTAINABILITY

Fast-growing, easily utilised marine algae which fix carbon dioxide


BIOTECHNOLOGY

Oil production from cultivated micro-organisms


BIOFUEL

Energy readily convertible from marine plants

BioMara science meeting Belfast

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BioMara’s science and technical meeting in April 2011 at the University of Ulster, was attended by BioMara researchers from all six partner institutes

In April 2011, BioMara held a science meeting hosted by Neil Hewitt at the Centre for Sustainable Technologies (CST - of which he is Director) on the Jordanstown campus at the University of Ulster.  Many of the BioMara researchers, representing all six partners, and some sponsors’ representatives attended and a number of interesting, informative and thought provoking presentations were made.

Neil welcomed participants to Jordanstown and explained a little of the work of the CST and the contribution it expects to make to the decarbonising of the UK energy supply.  This includes an impressive range of work undertaken by a staff of 40 and extending from bioenergy through advanced glazing systems and heat pumps to building design.  The work on techno-economic modelling is the key contribution of CST’s work in BioMara.  After the meeting Neil led a tour of the CST’s facilities in Jordanstown and all were a little envious of their comprehensive nature.

  • Following Neil’s welcome and introduction to CST, he introduced Marcio Novaes who told BioMara colleagues of his work defining the composition of seaweeds and looking at their biofuel potential.  Having established that wild harvest of seaweeds is not a viable option, Marcio went on to compare farming locations and production logistics; and finally methods of production and probable costs.

 

  • The next talk was given by Ian Rae from SAMS who told us of the work he and colleagues, Maeve Kelly, Peter Schiener and Lars Brunner, have been doing to define the methodologies and variables in the production of methane from seaweeds.  Locally available seaweeds have been characterised and their biomethane potential assessed following a range of physical and thermal pre-treatments.  Future work will continue this screening in larger bioreactors.

 

  • Carlos Vanegas, from Sligo Institute of Technology, presented some results from his work on eco-friendly approaches to pre-treatment of seaweed biomass.  He explained the processes at work in anaerobic digestion and the different physico-chemical characters of different seaweeds.  The focus of the work is on the methane output of seaweed after different physical and thermal pre-treatments.  The work continues using different inoculums to start the digestion process.

 

  • Brían Carpenter from CREDIT at Dundalk Institute of Technology moved us on from anaerobic digestion of seaweeds to their use in fermentation for alcohol production.  He explained that some 60% of fermentable sugars can be found in Laminaria and went on to describe an effective, low-cost & environmentally benign strategy to degrade seaweeds focussing on degrading bacteria found in beach-caste seaweed and characterisation of natural enzyme systems.  These will eventually be compared for effectiveness with commercially available polysaccharide degrading enzymes.

 

  • Next on the programme was Janet McKennedy, also from CREDIT.  Janet told her colleagues about the BM100 Methane Potential Test that she has been using to measure methane output from different seaweeds and the GCHS for analysis of volatile fatty acids (VFA).  Much effort has gone into optimisation of test methods and comparison with results produced elsewhere.  These methods will be used to further develop methodologies and make further analyses of, VFAs, polyphenols and AD residues from a greater range of seaweed species and pre-treatment methods.

 

  • The final presentation of a crowded morning was by Steve Slocombe from SAMS who explained something of his work aimed at understanding how oil accumulation is regulated in microalgae. He compared biomass yields, oil productivity and oil composition from 50 micro-algal strains and was able to cluster them into different groups such as high or low oil producers. Examples from the groups will be targeted for genomic studies to identify the regulatory mechanisms.
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