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Durham University

Durham Energy Institute

Macroalgae Biogas for the Isle of Man

Seaweed Colby, Isle of Man

Research Team:

Main Contact: Dr H. C. Greenwell, Department of Earth Sciences,

Dr J. Bothwell, School of Biology & Biological Sciences,

Dr V.K. Wells, Durham University Business School,

Dr E. F. Greenwell, Willow Research,

Rodi Wout,


Seaweed Onchan, Isle of Man

Project Objectives:

This feasibility study will explore the ecological and social potential for macroalgae (seaweed) growth in United Kingdom coastal waters to provide an alternative gas supply source for the local domestic gas market. To identify real barriers and solutions, and benchmark the feasibility study with real data, the Isle of Man (IoM), in the Irish Sea is considered as a case study.

The IoM has a population of some eighty thousand people, and is committed to using 10 percent renewable energy by 2015. This feasibility study will extend upon a recent report on renewable energy options commissioned by the IoM government. The study will assess the potential growth rates for cultivating macroalgae in IoM coastal waters, as well as the volumes of beach cast macroalgae available, to produce an estimated total yield of macroalgae.

The project will further assess the conceptual potential for producing biogas for energy combined heat and power applications through the co-digestion of the macroalgae with other waste streams.

As a baseline, data will be based on the few medium scale trials (one in Japan1 on AD of seaweed and largely historic data on kelp growth) undertaken. The consortium has estimated that about 7 per cent of the Isle of Man domestic gas supply for heating and power can be generated by biogas.

To provide accurate data for the feasibility study, growth will be assessed at small-scale in four key sea zone areas around the IoM coastline.

Socio- and technological feasibility studies will also be undertaken by researchers from Durham University Business School to address public acceptability and stakeholder perceptions towards this technology. This research will use various methodologies and techniques from interviews, questionnaires and focus groups to more novel quantitative experimentally based methods.

Project Background:

The Isle of Man presents an interesting case study for development and integration of marine bio-energy resources in the UK, and internationally. Specifically:

  • The IoM sees itself as well placed to develop renewable energy business. It has attractive taxation status and investment opportunities for technology driven business.
  • The IoM owns its territorial seabed out to 12 nautical miles (22.22km), effectively meaning that the majority of the IoM territory is below the sea.
  • As such, the IoM has an extensive coastline, relatively small landmass, and predominantly coastal community structure.
  • The IoM exports part of its generation to the UK so is an energy importer (gas) and exporter (electricity).
  • The IoM is an example of a vertically integrated energy market. The Manx Electricity Authority (MEA) owns energy generation, distribution and retailing, as well as setting pricing.

DEI research themes:

Sits across both DEI research themes of ‘Biofuels’ and ‘Society and Energy’

Media Coverage:

IOM Today - Finding out islanders’ views on renewable energy - 2nd October

IOM Today and The Examiner - Survey on attitudes to sources of green energy - 21st August 2013

Manx Radio interview – News interview - 11 April 2013

IOM Today and The Examiner - 10 of our gas from seaweed - 19th April – 2013

IOM Today and The Examiner - Can seaweed provide power as a biofuel - 20th March 2013


Wells, V., Greenwell, F., Covey, J., Rosenthal, H., Adcock, M. & Gregory-Smith, D. (2013). An exploratory investigation of barriers and enablers affecting investment in renewable companies and technologies in the UK. Interface Focus, Forthcoming.

Rowbotham, J.S.; Dyer, P.W.; Greenwell, H.C.; Selby, D.A.; Theodorou, M.K., “Copper(II)–mediated thermolysis of alginates: A model kinetic study on the influence of metal ions in the thermochemical processing of macroalgae”, Royal Society Interface Focus, In Press (2012)

Rowbotham, J.S.; Dyer, P.W.; Greenwell, H.C. and Theodorou, M.K. "Thermochemical processing of macroalgae: a late bloomer in the development of third-generation biofuels?", Biofuels, 3, 441-461 (2012).



1 - Matsui, T., T. Amano, Y. Koike, A. Saiganji and H. Saito (2006). Methane fermentation of seaweed. Biomass. American Institute of Chemical Engineers Annual Meeting, San Francisco, CA, Omnipress.


Poster presentations:

Royal Manx Show 2013 Poster 1

V. Wells and F.Greenwell (2013) Marine Biogas in the Isle of Man, perceptions and attitudes. Royal Manx Show 2013

Royal Manx Show 2013 poster 2

Chris Greenwell, John Bothwell, Karen Mooney, Emma-Kate Prout, Jack Rowbothama and Rodi Wout (2013) Seaweed Solutions on the Isle of Man. Royal Manx Show 2013

Click on image to download North East Energy Showcase poster

Greenwell E.F, Wells V.K, Wout, R, Bothwell, J and Greenwell H.C (2012) Enabling local renewable energy pathways through inclusive socio-technical approaches: marine biogas on the Isle of Man, UK ENERGY STRATEGY: SHOWCASING CAPABILITY OF THE NORTH EAST TO DELIVER, Emirates Durham International Cricket Ground, 23rd November 2012


Click on image to download IAS poster

Wells, V.K, Greenwell, E.F, Covey, J, Rosenthal, H, Adcock, M, and Gregory-Smith, D (2012) An exploratory investigation of barriers, enablers and forces affecting investment in renewable companies in the UK, IAS BIOFUELS, SCIENCE AND SOCIETY CONFERENCE, Durham University, 27th – 29th April

Incinerator Douglas, Isle of Man