A small bio-refinery is converting seaweed into protein, fuel-blendable alcohol and a bacterial soil product in the Mekong Delta province of Bac Lieu.

The refinery is part of a bio-economy demonstration that is also enhancing shrimp quality and yield by co-cropping naturally-occurring aquatic plants as bio-chemical feedstock.

The project is a collaboration between the Vietnam Academy of Science and Technology's Institute of Tropical Biology (ITB) and the US-based international project developer Algen Sustainables.

It is funded in part by grants from the governments of Denmark and Netherlands with additional research support from labs in the US and China.

The project sponsors are looking for an industrial partner that can help scale up the technologies to serve the regional chemicals market, says an ITB press release.

There are over 350,000 hectares of brackish water ponds in the Mekong Delta, most of which are owned by subsistence farmers who use no energy, nutrient, or probiotic inputs. The survival rate of shrimp fry is typically less than 10 percent.

The project team discovered that certain seaweed varieties appear naturally in the ponds and serve as a food source for the shrimp while also clarifying the water.

But with growth rates reaching 15 percent per day during the peak winter season, farmers were concerned that the plants could rapidly cover a pond and pollute it after dying.

The project team began teaching the farmers how to manage the seaweed as a crop, including thinning it when appropriate to maintain rapid but controlled growth. The excess seaweed is now collected by the farmer, dried, and used to make industrial products.-VNA