Seawater fuel discovery reduces water footprint

Researchers have found that seawater can replace freshwater to make the sustainable fuel bioethanol, reducing the extremely high water footprint associated with production.

Bioethanol is one of the best fuel alternatives because it is a liquid fuel with similar characteristics to petrol.

However, water is a key element in the fermentation process in the production of the sustainable fuel, which is derived from maize or sugar cane. An estimated 1,388 to 9,812 litres of freshwater are consumed for every litre of bioethanol produced.

Now, researchers have unraveled how to make bioethanol production more resource-friendly.

The method found by researchers at the University of Nottingham in the UK uses seawater and marine yeast instead of freshwater, thus reducing the need to drain precious resources.

Dr Abdelrahman Zaky conducted his research using seawater from the Lincolnshire coast and took his marine yeast samples from various locations in the UK, US and Egypt. He then put them through the fermentation process, explained a statement.

“Marine fermentation is the approach where seawater, marine biomass and marine microorganisms are used in the fermentation process,” he explained. “Seawater is a freely available and plentiful resource, and contains a spectrum of minerals, some of which have to be added to freshwater.”

The fermentation process using seawater also produces salt and freshwater as bi-products, thus adding to the economic benefits of the process.

In contrast, Dr Zaky highlighted: “Current fermentation technologies mainly use edible crops and freshwater for the production of bioethanol. With an ever growing population and demand for biofuels and other bio-based produces, there are concerns over the use of the limited freshwater and food crops resources for non-nutritional activities.

“Also, freshwater has a high price tag in countries where it is available, pushing up the price of production.”

Photo credit: Photos by Clark/ CC BY-NC 2.0

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