SeaGas is a three-year project, funded jointly between Innovate UK and BBSRC. The aim of the project is to assess the viability, technical and financial, of farming sugar kelp seaweed for bioenergy production through anaerobic digestion (AD). The technical focus is divided into three key areas; seaweed storage to ensure year-round supply; the potential for biomethane production and AD operational factors, plus; environmental and socio-economic impact. The financial case is assessed through a financial model created for SeaGas to include the specifics of seaweed cultivation, harvesting and storage.

CPI seaweed case study

The project is halfway through and the practical AD work has moved into the pilot scale digesters (from the small scale 5L reactors to the 800L reactors). This provides an opportunity to assess operational practicalities and parameters so that the process can be optimised as far as possible. Scalability of the process (seaweed storage and AD) will also be assessed. The environmental and social impact studies are underway and will be reporting throughout the remaining 15 months.

The Crown Estate are organising and hosting a stakeholder workshop for early May. This is a meeting for interested third parties to come and hear about the project and to open discussions on the way forward, to take the project idea to demonstration scale. Thus far, the area most in need of further work is the farming and harvesting methodology. Currently, around the UK there are no large commercial scale seaweed farms, hence, there are no cost-effective means of harvesting at this scale. Technologies exist elsewhere, which we hope to bring to any demonstration project. Existing or new technology will need to reduce the cost of farming and in particular harvesting by an order of magnitude, to make this crop competitive with land-based crops grown for energy production.

HVM Catapult Centre, CPI is now applying some of the knowledge and understanding gained through SeaGas, together with existing knowledge in AD and waste water treatment, to address multi-issue problems around the energy-waste-water-food nexus. We are applying a circular economy approach to solving societal problems where one or more of these issues arise. Quite simply, trying to make sure that [waste] resources are harnessed to recover maximum benefit, where possible.

The ancillary benefits to communities of such an approach might include reduced environmental pollution, improved health, jobs/skills and improved community sustainability and stability. So far, our work in this area is taking us from the Highlands & Islands of Scotland, to the Caribbean and potentially the Asian sub-continent. We look forward to further challenges, where ever they may be.