�5m to harness the power of seaweed

Scientists working to harness the power of seaweed have been given £5 million to test their research. The EU funds mean coastal communities could soon build a future out of marine plants and algae.

The research - which involves Scotland, Ireland and Northern Ireland - seeks to convert algae into fuel which could power homes and transport.

The cash was announced by Scottish First Minister Alex Salmond, who said hundreds of jobs could be created if the energy source proves viable.

Salmond said: "The £5 million investment is a welcome boost to what is proving to be one of our most resilient and promising sectors in these challenging economic times.

"By identifying the potential for a new industry, this regional project could bring long term economic and social benefits to the cross border area, including the prospect of hundreds of valuable jobs in remote coastal areas and islands.

The Scottish Association for Marine Sciences at Oban, on the west coast, will lead the research. Queens University Belfast and the University of Ulster will take part, as will the Institutes of Technology in Dundalk and Sligo in Ireland.

The research group, called BioMara, wants to offer an alternative to land-based green fuel. Other forms have come under criticism because valuable land for crops and animals have been lost in the demand for clean alternatives to fossil fuel.

The opportunity was welcomed by political leaders across administrations.

Northern Irish energy minister Arlene Foster said: "This research is at the cutting edge of marine renewable energy technology and will put the region and our universities at the forefront of world-wide marine bio-energy research."

Irish energy minister Eamon Ryan said: "The premise of this BioMara project is both exciting and potentially very significant - that marine algae can be harvested, processed and then utilised as a green energy source."

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