Picture this: Out in the open ocean, rows of farmed kelp spanning an area about the size of Mexico. Once harvested and processed, this rapid-growing seaweed would be turned into a fuel that you could pump into your car. No more relying on fossil fuels that take millions of years to form — and whose emissions into the atmosphere are the biggest contributor to the Earth’s rising temperatures.

Reams of scientific evidence including a recent report from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change — a nonpolitical assessment by 91 scientists from 40 countries — paints a stark picture for the economy, health and the environment if aggressive steps to reign in global warming are not taken in the next decade.

To tackle the challenge, USC Dornsife researchers have been testing creative solutions, from kelp biofuel to entirely new energy economies to redesigning waste. These solutions can be both entrepreneurial and profitable, creating innovative business models that can fuel jobs and a healthy economy while also saving the planet.
Plant Power

At the USC Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies’ Marine Science Center on Santa Catalina Island off the coast of Los Angeles, researchers are testing whether kelp could become a renewable fuel.

Why kelp? Diane Kim, associate director for special projects at the institute, is part of the team heading up the biofuel research.

She says that the common giant kelp found along the coast of California is one of the fastest growing organisms on the planet. Requiring a minimum of natural resources, it can grow one to two feet per day under ideal conditions.

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