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New Study a Practical Step Towards a "Green" Replacement for Oil
Monday, February 19, 2018 9:00:00 AM

Research on the productivity cycle of macroalgae offers first detailed picture of an economy less dependent on oil, TAU researchers say

A new Tel Aviv University study specifies the first yearlong productivity rates of seaweed-borne macroalgae in Israel's coastal waters, and the surface area required to produce mass quantities of the macroalgae in order to manufacture ethanol, a green alternative to oil.

"Oil leads to wars, to pollution, to political dependency, to terrorism," says Dr. Alexander Golberg, the study's principal investigator, of TAU's Porter School of Environmental Studies. "But oil is a great chemical, which is very difficult to replace. We believe we are on track to provide a green alternative that will one day replace oil — but there is a lot of work still to be done in many different sectors to accomplish this."

The research was led by Dr. Golberg and Alexander Chemodanov of TAU's Porter School of Environmental Science, in collaboration with Prof. Alex Liberzon and Oz Habiby of TAU's School of Mechanical Engineering; Dr. Alvaro Israel of The Israel Oceanographic and Limnological Research; Dr. Zohar Yakhini of The Interdisciplinary Center Herzliya; and Dr. Gabriel Jinjikhashvily of The Israel Electric Corporation. It was published in Energy Conversion and Management.

"Our study specifies for the first time how much area will be required to produce biomass offshore to replace oil with macroalgae-derived biofuels to meet national transportation needs," says Dr. Golberg. "We have shown here how our local seas can produce sustainable biomass — which can be used for the production of food, feed and chemicals including biofuels."

The scientists measured the growth rates of the Ulva species, common to Israel's shores, on a weekly basis for one year. They then constructed a statistical model predicting the potential of this biomass to produce ethanol and reduce carbon dioxide emissions. They also calculated the costs involved in order to render this process economically viable.

"This work shows that there is the potential of using seas and oceans to provide biomass for the generation of renewable energy for transportation," says Dr. Golberg. "The intensification of biomass production could lead to the transformation of the whole biotechnology industry, moving it from the production of only high-value products towards sustainable commodities that benefit entire nations.

"The challenge now is to develop the technology for precise farming in the sea as done today in industrial agriculture," says Dr. Golberg. "We want to develop a system for precise, intensified macroalgae cultivation and its efficient conversion to liquid fuels and food ingredients."

The research was supported by the Israel Ministry of Energy Infrastructures and Water Resources, the Israel Ministry of Health, the Israel Fund for Food Security, Israel's Ministry of Science and the TAU Center for Innovation in Transportation.

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