LOS ANGELES (CNS) - Scientists working with private industry reported today that a new aquaculture technique on the California coast dramatically increases kelp growth, yielding four times more biomass than natural processes.
The technique employs a contraption called the “kelp elevator'' that optimizes growth for the bronze-colored floating algae by raising and lowering it to different depths, according to scientists at the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies on Santa Catalina Island.
The team's newly published findings suggest it may be possible to use the open ocean to grow kelp crops for low-carbon biofuel similar to how land is used to harvest fuel feedstocks such as corn and sugarcane -- and with potentially fewer adverse environmental impacts.
The National Research Council has indicated that generating biofuels from feedstocks like corn and soybeans can increase water pollution. Farmers use pesticides and fertilizers on the crops that can end up polluting streams, rivers and lakes. Despite those well-evidenced drawbacks, 7% of the nation's transportation fuel still comes from major food crops. And nearly all of it is corn-based ethanol.
“Forging new pathways to make biofuel requires proving that new methods and feedstocks work,'' said Diane Young Kim, corresponding author of the study, associate director of special projects at the USC Wrigley Institute and a professor of environmental studies at the USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences.
“This experiment on the Southern California coast is an important step because it demonstrates kelp can be managed to maximize growth,'' she said.
The study was published Feb. 19 in the journal Renewable and Sustainable Energy Reviews. The authors include researchers from USC Dornsife, which is home to the Wrigley Institute, and the La Canada, California-based company Marine BioEnergy Inc., which designed and built the experimental system for the study and is currently designing the technology for open-ocean kelp farms.
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