Meet tunicates - The new marine organisms that double up as a biofuel and salmon food

Tunicates (ciona intestinalis), a yellowish slimy marine organism may prove to be a convenient source of fuel and salmon feed too.

Easily cultivable in huge amounts (around 200kg per square meter of the ocean surface), tunicates could be the one best thing that may solve the current need of combustible fuel in an eco-friendly way.

The tunicates seem to pack in a lot of extra bonuses too, with being rich in omega 3 fatty acids and being the only animals that can produce cellulose, making them one of the best ingredients for farm fish food.

These quickly-growing tunicates also filter out bacteria and micro-organisms through one end of their tube-like body, and excrete purified water through the other end.

The body of these tunicates, also known as the mantle, is made up of cellulose, which breaks down to produce sugars, which can then be used as bioethanol, a biofuel.

Using tunicates as a source of bioethanol as opposed to the corn, which is currenty being used, could be beneficial as corn could be then used to feed people instead.

Experimental cultivation of these tunicates is being done for the first time ever, in a small facility at Øygarden near Bergen.

"Our single greatest challenge is cultivating enough biomass per square metre to make operations profitable," project manager Cristofer Troedsson explained. "We anticipate a crop of 100 to 200 kilograms per square metre, which is an extremely high yield. But that is what is needed for profitability because the price per kilo is so low."

"The second major challenge we face is how much water we can squeeze out of the tunicates," he continued. "Their body mass is 95 per cent water. To sell the product we have to be able to remove at least 90 per cent and preferably 95 per cent of that water by mechanical pressing."

Dried tunicates contain around 60 percent protein, and are a good source of omega 3 fatty acids, which makes them one of the best feeds for salmon, the study revealed.

However, cultivation, manufacture and supply of this new promising fish feed may need some time. 

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