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An Indian startup company based in Chennai, having spent several fruitless years investigating microalgae, more commonly referred to as simply algae, as a possible source of biofuels, has turned its attention to seaweed as a possible biofuel feedstock.
Sea6 Energy’s founders, four students and their professor at IIT Madras, India's leading technical institute, spent the last two years investigating algae’s biofuel potential, as have thousands of researchers worldwide, particularly in the U.S.
Eventually however, the quintet's calculations led them to the conclusion that algae’s possibilities as a biofuel feedstock laid many years in the future, The Economic Times reported.
Algae needs significant amounts of fresh water, large nutrient inputs and plenty of land.
Sea6 Energy chairman Shrikumar Suryanarayan said that he and his research team then realized they were looking at the wrong marine product. Suryanarayan said, "We were preparing to abandon the project when we realised that we were chasing the wrong idea."
Unlike algae, macroalgae, more commonly known as seaweed, appeared an increasingly attractive proposition as a potential biofuel source even at first glance, as seaweed grows in shallow ocean waters and doesn't need land, water or nutrients since the ocean itself provides them.
Sea6 Energy was formed in July 2010. Shrikumar and a few IIT Madras alumni contributed about $200,000 to get the company started.
Unlike plants, seaweed contains no lignin and is easier to break down. Sea6 needs a microorganism that works in sea water and its research has discovered a few. Converting the sugars into alcohol or other fuels is the easiest task. "Once you have sugars," says KB Ramachandran, professor of biotechnology at IIT Madras, who is involed with the company, "we can make any petrochemical product."
By. Charles Kennedy, Deputy Editor OilPrice.com
Charles is a writer for Oilprice.com