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Prof. Shrikumar Suryanarayan, chairman of the Chennai-based Sea6 Energy Pvt. Ltd and a member on the board of IIT Madras Research Park has undertaken promising research for developing biofuels from seaweeds.

Mr. Suryanarayan, who previously headed the research and development wing of Biocon Ltd., told The Wall Street Journal (WSJ) recently that his company has successfully been able to turn red seaweed into ethanol in the lab through a fermentation process which uses normal yeast. “We’ve shown that we can convert it to ethanol without relying on any genetically-modified bacteria,” he said in the interview. According to WSJ, his firm has raised $655,500 from investors, including India’s Department of Biotechnology -which is keen for the country to boost its production of green fuels.

Pointing out to the benefits of producing green fuel from seaweed, the WSJ report said seaweeds are fast-growing and can be grown cheaply on the edge of India’s long coastlines. Also, that it doesn’t take land away from other food crops such as rice or wheat, unlike other biofuel crops like corn, palm or sugarcane.

India has been unable to achieve its target of producing 5% of its total fossil fuel needs from green energy. While biofuels account for only 3% of total fuel use, India’s biofuels target for 2017 is an ambitious 20%, says the WSJ.

The report said that Mr. Suryanarayan is hoping to later partner with large Indian or foreign energy companies to scale up commercial production. According to the entrepreneur, there are advantages to red seaweed over other seaweeds as it grows at a high yield per hectare – about 100 tons per hectare or almost double the yield of some land-based plants. This would make production of ethanol from seaweeds commercially viable.

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