First test of tropical seaweed farming for biofuels production begins off Puerto Rico


Science Business Announcement


WOODS HOLE, Mass. and La Parguera, P.R. – A team of researchers led by Loretta Roberson of the Marine Biological Laboratory, Woods Hole, has installed the first seaweed farm in Puerto Rico and U.S. tropical waters.

The research array furthers the design and development of a system for offshore cultivation of tropical seaweeds to support large-scale production of biomass for biofuels and other valuable bioproducts.

“Puerto Rico has stable warm temperatures and ample sunlight year-round, as well as a wide range of exposure to prevailing winds and waves. These conditions make its southern coastline an ideal test bed for exploring how environmental conditions influence the biological, physiological, and chemical properties of cultivated macroalgae, as well as the impact of seaweed farms on the surrounding environment,” says Roberson, the lead principal investigator on this research effort. Additional farms are being tested in Florida and Belize to assess scalability.

As the site is the first of its kind in the region, authorizations were required from numerous agencies including the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the U.S. Coast Guard, and the Puerto Rico Department of Natural and Environmental Resources.

“Facilitating research of this nature will be key for the development of sustainable aquaculture in this area,” says Roberson. “We have tested similar farm designs in New England and Alaska, but this will be the first test of the array in warm tropical waters where we expect higher fouling rates from other marine organisms, UV damage, and threats from hurricanes.” Unlike kelp cultivation, which is usually seasonal, tropical seaweed farming can support year-round harvesting.

The research team includes experts in ocean farm systems design, modeling of nutrient dynamics in ocean systems, environmental impact assessment and stakeholder engagement, and economic analysis.

The team members are affiliated with an additional 16 organizations: Caribbean Coastal Ocean Observing System, University of Puerto Rico Mayaguez, University of Puerto Rico Rio Piedras, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, C.A. Goudey & Associates, Tend Ocean, University of Connecticut Stamford, Cascadia Research Collective, Center for Research and Advanced Studies of the National Polytechnic Institute Merida, Makai Ocean Engineering, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Rutgers, The Nature Conservancy, Two Docks Shellfish LLC, University of California Irvine, and University of California Santa Barbara.

The researchers are currently targeting commercially valuable red algal eucheumatoid species, which are primarily cultivated in East Africa and Asia. To date, eucheumatoids have been difficult to propagate in a cost-effective manner and production has been limited to easily accessible areas near shore. In addition to developing the best methods for cultivating these species in offshore environments, the project team seeks to further quantify the ecosystem services associated with the farming activities. These likely include habitat provision for a variety of marine species and the improvement of water quality through removal of excess nutrient and buffering of pH.

MBL received funding for this research from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA-E) competitive Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources (MARINER) program. The MARINER program seeks to develop the tools to enable the United States to become a leading producer of macroalgae, helping to improve U.S. energy security and economic competitiveness.

For additional information about MBL and this project, please visit:


The Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) is dedicated to scientific discovery – exploring fundamental biology, understanding biodiversity and the environment, and informing the human condition through research and education. Founded in Woods Hole, Massachusetts in 1888, the MBL is a private, nonprofit institution and an affiliate of the University of Chicago.

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Jeremiah Puckett
May 14, 2021 10:38 pm

How many tons of this will need to be harvested to power a lightbulb for ten minutes?

Reply to  Jeremiah Puckett
May 14, 2021 11:01 pm

“.. sugar Kelp can produce about 50 litres of ethanol and 20m3 of biomethane per wet ton.”

DuckDuckGo is your friend, to coin a phrase.

Reply to  HAS
May 14, 2021 11:51 pm

Pretty sure that is not properly AND, but OR. I could easily be wrong, but once you get out eth/meth from a given mass, there isn’t much left to go for seconds. I’d really like to be wrong on this.
Yeast emits CO2. As does steam reduction. I’m sure the researchers know this. Wonder if they told the press release writer?

Last edited 1 year ago by dk_
Frank from NoVA
Reply to  HAS
May 15, 2021 4:50 am

From the puff piece:

“Researchers are looking to mechanize the process for large-scale seaweed production. They will also have to find cost-effective renewable energy processes for drying seaweed or else the overall costs will shoot up.”

Whether it’s biomass, solar or wind, all of these processes are ultimately driven by the sun and are too energy diffuse to be useful on a large scale. This is the problem with corn ethanol – growing corn for food makes sense, but is highly questionable as a fuel source. Unfortunately, what started off as a failed fuel replacement for embargoed mideast oil became, with an EPA-mandated requirement for oxygenates in gasoline, a political boondoggle for midwest farmers.

Last edited 1 year ago by Frank from NoVA
Reply to  HAS
May 15, 2021 10:44 am

From the link,
“University of Victoria researcher, Aaron Philippsen recently presented a probable solution for British Columbia’s fuel supply which is currently being imported from other places. Philippsen has proposed farming seaweed along the length of British Columbia’s coastline for the production of ethanol, which would suffice for the fuel needs of the province. He wants to float large rafts in the ocean along the coastline to grow the seaweed.”
I wish scientists would refrain from making statements like this, or at least contact an engineering colleague for a reality check. Taking over B.C.’s precious Pacific coast line to grow seaweed wouldn’t even pass inspections from environmentalists and fisheries, nevermind ever be remotely economical.

May 14, 2021 11:50 pm

This is probably good, basic research. But when I read phrases like
“development of sustainable aquaculture” I begin to doubt. I am pretty sure that sustainable is a buzzword. Hopefully it is just a sales gimmick, and not ideology poisoning. When I see Woods Hole is involved, doubt creeps in just a little farther.

My bet is that deriving fuel from sea plants is going to look a lot like deriving fuel from land plants, animals, and minerals. See prior posts from smarter people on this site, or many places elsewhere, for how syngas is extracted using steam, and using as a feedstock coal or other fuels, oilseed, garbage, food processing waste, or many other sources.

Personally, I’m not convinced steam extraction of fuel from any source is a bad thing. Nor is any other method of producing syngas or its derivatives. But it is not an answer to energy poverty or carbon neutrality (I’ve yet to be convinced either is a problem, so the possibility of it being an answer is moot). Synthetic fuel always takes more energy than it contains. The entire process also releases more carbon than the fuels replaced by synthetics.

Woods Hole’s record on biofuel is pretty bad IMO. Not that long ago, they condemned the burning of waste forest products in Great Britain, even while wind farms there were breaking the grid. They seemed to forget that the forest product fuel was a compromise that allowed burning of anything-other-than-coal in slightly modified coal power plants because no one, including Woods Hole, wanted acid rain.

Last edited 1 year ago by dk_
Rod Evans
May 14, 2021 11:52 pm

Wasn’t this experiment done by nature millions of years ago. I believe the storage of the ongoing biofuels production processes, has saved us all that time lag between growth and fuel.
Why not just pump out what nature has already provided?
Just an idea…..

Reply to  Rod Evans
May 15, 2021 1:01 am

They could just let us get lamp oil and transmission fluid from whales and seals, but there might be something wrong with that idea, too.

Rich Davis
Reply to  Rod Evans
May 15, 2021 4:58 am

It’s something like this…We have $60 billion in the bank. That’s a finite amount, so it’s not sustainable. How much do you need to spend per year? Oh $60k I guess. You’re right then, at that rate and assuming zero interest rates, you’re going to starve to death in a million years. Maybe go on welfare now to be prepared.

Reply to  Rich Davis
May 15, 2021 9:29 am

Excellent! GND as welfare.

Reply to  Rod Evans
May 15, 2021 10:53 am

Exactly! Efficient and economical methods already exist for fossil fuel energy to feed already existing efficient and economical machines for electricity and transportation. Even if CO2 were the devil, we could just spread a miniscule bit of iron dust over the ocean to jumpstart the growth of co2 loving plankton.

May 15, 2021 12:05 am

Hurricanes can soon be strip mining events. I had a Caribbean algae cultivation project in the mid 1970s tore apart by even lesser winds.

Reply to  gringojay
May 15, 2021 4:54 pm

Climate researchers are well known to make ridiculous claims just to get more beach time.
They’ll volunteer to rebuild their storm tossed seaweed wreckage for twice the price and claim that they’re saving us money.

M Courtney
May 15, 2021 12:29 am

Recognising that building anything at sea is costly and vulnerable to weather. this is a good idea
Agriculture is vital for many things as well as ecofuels: Food, Clothing, Pharmaceuticals for instance.

If farming the sea becomes viable the world will be a lot better off.

So the current funding comes form eco-hype. That’s where the money is. So what?
This could be the another laugh at Malthus.

Reply to  M Courtney
May 15, 2021 1:04 am

Best I’ve heard for kelp was used as dairy heard feed. That one probably won’t fly, here, though. Evil cows.

May 15, 2021 12:44 am

with beaches from Florida through the Caribbean being hit by piles of decaying seaweed, maybe there is a resource to be used

Sargassum: The seaweed deluge hitting Caribbean shores – BBC News

Reply to  griff
May 15, 2021 7:57 am

Thank you griff, an appropriate post. Even if it is from 2018.

MANY communities clear seaweed from their beaches to make the sand more friendly for the tourists or residents. The problem with the Sargassum in the article: It shows up when and where the winds and tides take it, and apparently the blooms happen years apart.

I am sure the cost to use that would be prohibitive. The collection would use mucho fossil fuels as well.

May 15, 2021 1:57 am

When I holidayed in Mexico a few years ago there were tremendous problems with the vast amounts of seaweed accumulating on the beaches all along the Caribbean coast. My thoughts are that instead of growing more , why not just harvest what is already there and solve two problems at once

Reply to  Martin
May 15, 2021 5:05 pm

Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean waters are low in nutrients and don’t grow a lot of seaweed.

The Sargasso Sea is well offshore in the Atlantic Ocean.
Just as fish harvesting in international waters are mostly by treaties. So should be harvesting sargassum from the Sargasso Sea nursery..

May 15, 2021 2:12 am

At least someone is actually doing this. The science has been there for years.

Reply to  Elle
May 17, 2021 12:55 am

Probably it is okay, but should also probably belong to an Agronomy department in a University with a good Ocean Biology program, or vice versa. Seaweed for fuel isn’t really useful as there are cheaper and more plentiful feedstocks readily available. Seaweed for saleable products, or food, or as part of other economical aquaculture would be progress.

Patrick MJD
May 15, 2021 2:14 am

The only sustainability these people are interested in are their grants and income.

Last edited 1 year ago by Patrick MJD
Reply to  Patrick MJD
May 15, 2021 5:14 am

Yes, and team members from 16 organizations will be accumulating a lot of frequent flier miles and hotel points. They will accrue “earned” leave on these ventures, thus ensuring support of such behavior during regular vacations and on through retirement.

And when this this research fails to yield anything of tangible value there are plenty of other ideas out there equally deserving of government funding. “Gain of function” seaweed is surely a twinkle in some researcher’s eye.

Last edited 1 year ago by Scissor
Peta of Newark
May 15, 2021 3:10 am

and they wanna grow stuff for the sole reason of burning it

perfect certifiable suicidal insanity

Yes yes yes, Grow Stuff In The Ocean.

Then the blindness starts:
Quote:”currently targeting commercially valuable red algal eucheumatoid species

Money money money.
Anyway, Uncle Joe will soon sort that with a punitive: Carbon Tax

Quote:”eucheumatoids have been difficult to propagate in a cost-effective manner

Just guessing here…
Maybe that’s because they are red in colour. Are they are chock full of Iron?
If so, they will be ‘difficult’, Iron is THE Liebig Limiter in the ocean

Thanks Griffles, your link to the BBC was/is epic.
I do recall that story from somewhere, its quite old. Is that stuff still coming ashore……
Then forgot. Getting old innit.

All that stuff beautiful beautiful organic material, chock full of micro-nutrients and trace elements.
Trace elements that were part of farmland soil and all the Earth’s land surface in fact, in the not-too-distant.
Yet the clowns can’t figure it out when they say:
points to nutrients both from falling Saharan dust and pushed up from the sea floor as possible factors, but says more research is needed to establish exact triggers”
Clue for you boys and girls, check out the Humboldt Current, just for starters as a guide to what gives.

And it becomes ‘A Problem’
simply incredible 🙁
Such incredible stupidity – sometimes you really do lose the will
Made even worse by the endless desire to burn it.
Repeat: Insanity in clear & perfect view

Gather it up, maybe let it dry out a bit and chop it up. (makes it lighter and easier to transport, in large amounts)

Then cart it inshore and spread it around the places where all those nutrients came from. Even if it was 10’s and 100’s of thousands of years ago.
Old and new deserts alike, also almost any and all contemporary farmland.

Straight off, you could not believe how many problems in This World that will solve.
It impacts every aspect of Life Today. Every aspect.

If, big if, you have soaked up any of my ravings, you will at least have an idea of what they are and how it works.

Start with the 2 words: Soil & Erosion

Last edited 1 year ago by Peta of Newark
Tom Johnson
May 15, 2021 4:07 am

Living on a lake, it’s easy to note that seaweed does not grow under docks and canopies. It can’t grow where it doesn’t get enough sunlight. It doesn’t grow in deep water, either, for the same reason – water blocks most sunlight after just a few feet of depth.

It’s also quite difficult to cut the sea weed in the water. Lawn mowers drown, and tractors sink sink get stuck. The floating harvesters don’t work very well, and are very expensive. Besides all this, in their great wisdom, the government doesn’t even allow floating harvesters that disturb lake bottoms.

It’s hard to imagine that there is sufficient area to even bother with that has water depths of the proper amount, that isn’t already occupied by docks and shore landowners, reasonably close to land facilities, to have much effect on world wide bio fuel supplies .

Rich Davis
Reply to  Tom Johnson
May 15, 2021 5:21 am

Not that I imagine this is worth doing, but don’t you think that ropes or nets set up to be about 2 meters deep at high tide would support seaweed? Just stretched out between pilings and detachable for harvesting? Expect a lot of losses from storms of course. But breakwaters might mitigate that.

Tom Johnson
Reply to  Rich Davis
May 15, 2021 5:27 am

It’s like everything else in the Never-Never Land of “Sustainability” – the time schedule disintegrates when hit with reality.

Shanghai Dan
Reply to  Tom Johnson
May 15, 2021 6:53 pm

It won’t be any more difficult than oyster farming.

May 15, 2021 6:23 am

Wonder if there is oil under that test bed.

May 15, 2021 6:44 am

A due-diligence report on this scheme would be very interesting. What is the labor and materials cost for producing a gallon of diesel oil or whatever the objective is, and how does that compare with the cost of current production for the same?

Thomas Gasloli
May 15, 2021 6:52 am

Commercially viable—turns out that means grown as a source of carrageen—the gum you use in bad processed food. As a source if “biofuel”, ridiculous!😂

May 15, 2021 6:54 am

I love La Parguera, P.R. — I certified to scuba dive there many years ago. A terrific safe harbor for sailboats, bio-luminescent bays, wonderful reefs, friendly people.

The is a marine research facility there.

May 15, 2021 7:24 am

Seaweed for fuel is one of the dumbest ideas ever. It is labor and time intensive and also slow-growing. Imagine the millions of tons that would be needed, collected, and refined to make any kind of dent in our fuel needs. And, it would be seriously more expensive. Fuel from algae is not a viable plan. And, whee would these huge monocultures b set up?

John Bell
May 15, 2021 7:34 am

It will always require FAR MORE fossil fuel energy input that ya ever get out of it. Send more grant $$

May 15, 2021 9:25 am

It doesn’t matter if seaweed is sustainable or not.

This is pure “gain of function” research and nothing more, something our government likes to deny it ever engages in, when asked later by congressional committees.

May 15, 2021 4:45 pm

“A diver measuring the size of a newly outplanted bunch of eucheumatopis isiformis, a red seaweed native to the caribbean. The research team will monitor the algae throughout its cultivation…

There are good reasons why the Caribbean waters are crystal clear blue waters…
The Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico waters are very poor in nutrients.

Watch these yahoos decide to fertilize their algae seaweed crops…
That is, more ways to worsen environmental conditions.

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