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Offshore wind test module to harvest seaweed for biofuel production

Netherlands energy firm launches test module for seaweed cultivation in offshore wind farms

The cultivation module has left the NIOZ harbour on the Dutch island of Texel
The cultivation module left the NIOZ harbour on the Dutch island of Texel earlier this month. By June, Ecofys hopes to harvest the first supply of seaweed for biofuels and energy production

A Netherlands firm has started a trial which aims to combine generating offshore wind energy with bioenergy using seaweed.

The cultivation module, developed by energy firm Ecofys, is set to harvest the Dutch seaweed for the production of biofuels and energy.

Ecofys’ partner, the Energy Research Centre of the Netherlands (ECN), is investigating the possibilities of ‘bio-refining’ seaweed into proteins, components for biofuels and fuel for energy generation. The Irish company Ocean Fuel is already extracting seaweed proteins for fish and livestock feed. In this scenario, large-scale seaweed production at sea can replace large land areas of soybean production. The combination of sustainable food and energy production supports the idea of a ‘biobased economy’ that Ecofys promotes.

Anouk Florentinus, project manager at Ecofys, said: “These are offshore renewables in the broadest sense.

The innovative seaweed cultivation module, which measures 20 by 20m, consists of a set of steel cables, held two metres under the sea surface by anchors and floating buoys. Horizontal nets measuring 10 by 10m are suspended between the cables. Seaweed plants of species that occur naturally in the North Sea are attached to the nets. The trial will test if the module is ‘North Sea proof’, the survival and growth rate of the plants, and the ecological effects. When the trial succeeds, Ecofys will have reached a global milestone: offshore cultivation of biomass (bio-offshore).

The trial will also show whether the module is ‘position accurate’ and therefore suitable for seaweed cultivation in offshore wind farms. This is because seaweed and wind turbines are potentially a good combination.

 “A wind farm is closed for shipping and commercial fishing. This makes it a kind of marine conservation area. Fish will be attracted to the seaweed fields and use them for shelter and even as a nursery This will certainly be the case in fields of several hectares.

Ecofys directed the module’s realisation in a consortium with Eneco, ECN, BLIX, Van Beelen Netting, Pipelife, Ocean Harvest, VIRO and De Vries & Van de Wiel. The Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research (NIOZ) facilitated the construction of the module in its harbour, supported by local contractors. The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs, Agriculture and Innovation provided the funding through a so-called ‘Small Business Innovation Research’ (SBIR) scheme for research into seaweed cultivation (through Agentschap NL).

“We expect to harvest and hopefully deliver the first kilos of seaweed in late June,” said Florentinus.