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Scientists invent process to turn waste seaweed into biofuel

When we allow substances such as agricultural fertilizer runoff to enter the seas, there are very real consequences. One of those consequences is that Sargassum seaweed is growing out of control in many areas, washing up on beaches in huge amounts. Utilizing a new technique, that rotting organic matter could soon be converted into biofuels and other products.

Ordinarily, the processing of seaweed involves straining it out of saltwater, rinse it in freshwater, then drying it. According to the University of Exeter’s Prof. Mike Allen, though, “the costs of these processes can be prohibitively high.”

Along with colleagues from the University of Bath, he set out to develop a cheaper, more commercially viable alternative. Additionally, the catalysts prepare the seaweed for the next phase of the process, which is known as hydrothermal liquefaction. In a nutshell, this involves subjecting the material to high temperatures and pressures. The end products are a bio-oil that can be further processed into fuels, along with what is described as a high-quality, low-cost fertilizer.

And as an added bonus, if any pieces of plastic waste are present in the washed-up seaweed, those are likewise converted into bio-oil – so they do not need to be removed prior to processing.

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