Seaweed's Big Comeback?
200 years ago, in Napoleon’s heyday, burning seaweed was a lifeline for communities in the Western Isles cut off by war from their usual sources of fuel. Two centuries later, is the wheel turning full circle? The joint UK-Irish BioMara project, funded by the INTERREG IVA programme and accredited by LWEC, is assessing whether seaweed could be gathered or cultivated there and turned into biogas for heating or liquid biofuels for transport.
“An indigenous energy source like this could generate a range of social, economic and environmental benefits,” says Dr Michele Stanley, BioMara’s Director. “Above all, it could help revitalise remote, often isolated communities hit especially hard by rising fuel costs.”
BioMara is focusing on Northern Ireland and the adjoining ‘necklace’ of counties in Ireland, as well as on Scotland’s west coast. It’s hoped that two pilot schemes, perhaps heating village halls or social housing developments, will be up and running by the end of 2012. But BioMara is also looking at key underlying issues. It’s already emerging that large-scale harvesting of seaweed washed up on the region’s beaches may not be environmentally sustainable, due to the impact on migrating and overwintering birds that feed on the invertebrates the seaweed hosts. Aquaculture, with seaweed specifically grown and farmed as an energy resource, may therefore represent the best option.
“The BioMara project is highlighting the huge potential to use seaweed for energy here in the Western Isles”, says Annie Macdonald, Vice Chair of Comhairle nan Eilean Siar’s Sustainable Development Committee. “Now let’s get on and do it!”
To find out more about this project you can email Biomara@sams.ac.uk