NOAA Aids Exploration of Macroalgae as Renewable Energy Source

The Takeaway: The cultivation of marine macroalgae, such as seaweed and kelp, could benefit both human energy needs and ocean ecology.

A public-private partnership is investigating the feasibility of cultivating and growing macroalgae, such as seaweed and kelp, in U.S. Caribbean offshore areas. The “aquafarming” of large-scale, floating macroalgae also could improve ecosystem health by removing excess carbon dioxide and nutrients. Partners used the OceanReports web tool to identify ocean areas with the greatest renewable-energy potential. NOAA and the U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management created the tool. Partners include the Fearless Fund, U.S. Department of Energy, and the Coastal Aquaculture Siting and Sustainability team at NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science.

OceanReports provides users with instantaneous, specialized “ocean neighborhood analyses” of more than 100 ocean data sets, including maps and graphics. The tool, and remote-sensing techniques, enabled the project team to track a marine biomass and to optimize its “floating-farm” design by modeling biophysical and wind condition data.

The project team continues to assess Caribbean Sea areas in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone that could host this sort of a marine biomass project. Separately, Gulf of Mexico partners seek ways of growing and harvesting macroalgae.

This type of mariculture could bring economic benefits to nearby communities while saving costs over land-based agriculture, which requires infusions of fresh water, land area, and fertilizers. Native floating marine biomasses are transported by currents, rather than built infrastructure, which lowers risks of entangling animals or adding to ocean pollution. (2021)

More Information: Harnessing the Power of Macroalgae in the Caribbean

Partners: NOAA’s National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science and Office for Coastal Management, U.S. Department of Energy’s Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources program, U.S. Department of the Interior’s Bureau of Ocean Energy Management