Thursday, 18 December 2008

Prince Charles warns environmental threat even more alarming than recession

The Prince of Wales, in his first intervention on the recession, has warned that the threat to the environment is even more "alarming" than the economic downturn.

By Andrew Pierce Last Updated: 4:56PM GMT 17 Dec 2008

Prince Charles warns that 'our natural capital cannot be replenished' Photo: AP
In an address to some of Britain's business leaders he said the principal factors which caused the collapse in the international banking system also lie at the heart of the "climate crunch".
He said: "There are a number of parallels that can be drawn between the current financial crisis and the looming, and even more alarming, environmental crisis."
He cited, overconsumption, indebtedness, overconfidence in market and regulatory systems and short-termism, as features that lay at the heart of the looming environmental disaster.
"Just as the world is hopefully coming together to tackle the credit crunch, so we need to work together even more powerfully, and with the same sense of urgency, to tackle climate change and the challenges of a resource constrained world," he said in a speech at a conference at St James's Palace for the Prince's Accounting for Sustainability Forum.
The forum has brought together more than 200 representatives from the business, investor, academic, accounting and public sectors to help develop systems to enable organisations to measure more effectively the wider environmental and social costs of their actions and business decisions.
The speech comes after the Daily Telegraph reported that the Queen hoped that members of the Royal Family would follow her example and avoid any overt displays of public extravagance because of the deepening recession, which threatens to push unemployment to three million.
The Queen also revealed her deep concern about the impact of the recession when she was overheard asking academics at the London School of Economics: "Why did no one see it coming?"
The Prince said he was not trying to suggest that governments should focus on solving one of the problems rather than the other. But he said a "growing chorus" of voices now urges a response which is geared to dealing with both at the same time.
"New industries, millions of new jobs and many new commercial opportunities can go hand-in-hand with transformation toward an ecologically durable economy," he said.
"The ecosystems on which we all rely for our survival are more complex and less well-understood than the global financial system, and my great fear – a long-held one, for which I have been roundly abused and ridiculed – is that by the time these problems are understood and addressed it will be too late and, very importantly, that unlike financial capital our natural capital cannot be replenished."
He said the Accounting for Sustainability project, which he set up in December 2006, was created to help ensure that sustainability becomes embedded in the DNA of organisations.
"Unless this is the case, sustainability considerations will not become embedded within organisations' day to day operations and decision making so that having, hopefully, survived the credit crunch, we will not have learned the much larger lessons and will merely carry on regardless to a much more painful, calamitous and, crucially, irretrievable climate crunch."
The conference was also addressed by Stephen Green, group chairman of HSBC bank which stands to lose up to £688 million in the Madoff Wall Street fraud.
Mr Green warned against reducing the priority attached to tackling climate change in the crisis. He said: "The climate change agenda will not pass, this is something that is with us for the rest of time. This is something that we do have to attend to for the sake not only of our children but for our grandchildren and onwards."

A green scorecard for stimulating the economy

The new U.S. administration must weigh any proposed spending on the basis of clear criteria that would assess just how green the projects will be, writes Richard Coniff from Yale Environment 360, a member of the Guardian Environment Network
From Yale Environment 360 part of the Guardian Environment Network, Wednesday 17 December 2008 15.40 GMT

President-elect Barack Obama has spent two years talking about how badly this country needs change, particularly on green issues. Now he has a chance to deliver it. But so far, when it comes to his economic stimulus package, the rush to get quick results seems to be pushing the environment to the background and sending the process down a familiar path, as lobbyists and contractors jostle for handouts in another round of what one commentator recently dubbed "K Street Capitalism."
Despite all the talk about breaking our oil addiction and addressing global warming, most of the projects currently being touted as "shovel-ready" are not green at all. In transportation, for instance, state and federal transportation agencies are mainly trotting out their usual highway wish lists.
"Part of what we're hearing from lobbyists and staff on Capitol Hill is that the dollars should be sent out according to the existing formula," says Deron Lovaas, director of federal transportation policy at the Natural Resources Defense Council. That means relying on a Reagan Administration deal from 1982 under which 80 percent of transportation funds go to highways and only 20 percent to public transit. (NRDC thinks 50-50 would be more like "change we can believe in.")
So what's an environmentally enlightened way to spend federal dollars, even when speed and economic recovery are critical? How do we get away from our present bridge-to-nowhere system of handing out money based on political clout?
We need a clear break from business as usual, and the economic stimulus package is a perfect opportunity to test the idea of a green scorecard for smart spending. It would consist of a checklist of objectives, many of them necessarily economic: Does this proposal create American jobs? Does it foster industries where the United States can take a decisive lead? Does it have a short payback period? Does it offer a good return on investment?
But green criteria would carry equal weight: Does it decrease our carbon footprint? Does it encourage energy independence? Does it improve air quality? Does it address water quality and supply issues? Does it encourage smart growth rather than sprawl? Does it protect wildlife and other natural resources?
Reducing a funding decision to numbers might sound simplistic. But simplicity can be a good thing. Say you're trying to ease the traffic bottleneck caused by tractor-trailers on a major transportation route. The choice: Either expand the highway to eight lanes, or boost capacity on the adjacent intermodal rail line. The rail project is almost certain to rack up more points for being quicker to start, cheaper to build, and delivering freight five times farther than trucks on the same gallon of fuel, releasing one third the greenhouse gas emissions.
Even a relatively simple point system can leave room for nuance. The entire power transmission grid is overdue for an upgrade, but the point system would probably direct early funding to underdeveloped wind power transmission routes. Biofuel in the form of corn ethanol would gain points on energy independence, for instance, but lose them on carbon emissions. A housing project might get +1 point for creating short-lived construction jobs, while an alternative energy plan might score +3 for long-term jobs in manufacturing.
A scorecard would force everyone to think a little differently. A defense project that's outside the traditional environmental bailiwick might work harder to slow runoff, if only for the extra points on water quality and supply. A developer seeking government support would want to focus projects downtown or along existing transit routes, to score climate points by reducing drive-time.
Likewise environmentalists might find themselves paying closer attention to mainstream economic concerns. For instance, climate change activists frequently urge consumers to buy compact fluorescent lights and energy efficient electronic devices (+3 for reducing carbon emissions). But those products are generally manufactured overseas (-3 for U.S. job creation), according to Jackie Roberts, director of sustainable technology for the Environmental Defense Fund (EDF).
Using economic stimulus money to provide cash rebates for weatherization projects, Roberts says, would deliver quick results (and collect points) on both economic and environmental scores, because insulation, thermal windows, and other weatherization products are manufactured in the United States.
Last week, a coalition of 17 U.S. environmental groups put forward a "green stimulus" proposal for 80 projects to reduce pollution, save energy, protect public health and safety, and restore the environment. The coalition said the proposed projects – which include road and bridge repairs but no new roads — would create up to four million jobs and cost $160 billion.
EDF and Duke University also recently compiled a list of global warming fixes that are ready to roll out as part of the first round in any economic stimulus proposal. For instance, North Carolina has developed a new technology for turning livestock wastes into potting soil, producing a 97 percent reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. This technology would also score points for addressing water and air-quality issues and creating U.S. manufacturing jobs.
The scorecard idea is hardly new. Oregon uses a system of "progress indicators" for measuring performance by state agencies. Former presidential candidate Tom Vilsack also employed such a system as a budgeting device when he was governor of Iowa, and he promoted the idea at the federal level during the presidential primaries.
In an interview with Yale Environment 360, Vilsack said a spending scorecard would be "a terrific opportunity for the Obama Administration to send a different message to the people: 'This is huge, it's complicated, but we're going to be transparent. We're going to tell you what we're spending, why we're spending it, and what benefit will accrue to the American people.'"
Given the influence of lobbyists and the electoral cycle at the federal level,it might ordinarily be na├»ve to propose any kind of scorecard, much less a green one. Members of Congress will resist having their pet projects held to the numbers — the Capitol Hill equivalent of No Child Left Behind. It's also easier and politically more rewarding in the short term to put a program into place today than to argue about what numbers it's going to hit.
But the debate over the auto industry bailout has made people painfully aware that it's not enough to have a budget. We need a plan, and it needs to be a plan where fixing things in the short-term doesn't just make them worse a few years out.
President-elect Obama currently has the political clout to deliver scorecard criteria for the economic stimulus package without prolonged debate. If he gets it right, the green scorecard could eventually become a standard for all federal spending, reducing the influence of lobbyists and forcing legislators to focus instead on results. But for now what matters is that such a scorecard would give Obama the budget test he needs to deliver on both economic recovery and on his promise of "a new chapter in America's leadership on climate change."
All he needs is the political will.
• This article was shared by our content partner Yale Environment 360, a member of the Guardian Environment Network

Recession threatens zero carbon homes, say campaigners

The credit crunch and the UK housing slump may threaten the government's commitment to building zero carbon homes, say green builders
Felicity Carus, Wednesday 17 December 2008 14.23 GMT

The government's zero carbon homes initiative is in danger of being "devalued" say campaigners who have previously lauded the scheme as pioneering. They say the definition of zero carbon risks being diluted in the face of the worst economic conditions for housebuilding since the 1920s.
However, launching a government consultation on the definition of zero carbon today the housing minister Margaret Beckett said despite the economic crisis she was "absolutely committed to our 2016 target".
The government has pledged that by 2016 all new homes have to be zero carbon, through energy efficiency and renewable power. It estimates that 25% of the UK's CO2 emissions come from housing - reducing demand for household heating using fossil fuels is key to achieving the government's target of an 80% reduction in emissions by 2050.
"Climate change is one of the biggest challenges facing the world, and introducing zero carbon homes is an important part of our plans to tackle this." said Beckett.
She added: "With the consultation process we are launching today, we are confident we will be able to achieve our ambitions while giving the industry flexibility for how they get there."
But campaigners have warned that flexibility for the building industry may result in measures that have less impact on emissions. "Unless the government is careful, they will devalue the concept of a zero carbon home," said John Alker of the UK Green Building Council, a non-profit organisation which campaigns for sustainable building practices.
"Housebuilders have come a long way in a short time, in signing up to the 2016 target. But some of these proposals risk going against the spirit of the zero carbon definition."
The UKGBC has advised the government on how to achieve its climate change targets through energy efficiency, micro-generation in individual dwellings, bigger "near-site" renewable energy generation and off-site renewables. It warns that developers may put pressure on the government to allow cheaper options, such as off-setting emissions in its existing housing stock, by installing insulation for example.
Paul King, the chief executive of the UKGBC, said: "Simply offsetting emissions in nearby existing homes through energy efficiency improvements is not a solution – we need radical action in both new homes and existing homes, it's not an either/or.
"We urge the government to stick to its guns and rule this option out. A 'zero carbon home' built using this mechanism would not be doing what it said on the tin."
Stephen Stone, the chief executive of housebuilders Crest Nicholson, said: "The economic downturn we are battling with at the moment does not mean that climate change goes away.
"The government needs to decide what its priorities are, and we believe that cutting carbon emissions should be at the top of the list. But that means that other things might have to give."
A spokesman for the Department of Communities and Local Government said the economic conditions would have to play a part in deciding the definition for zero carbon. "It's a question of balance between green choices and the economic conditions.
"But to what extent people's responses will be determined by economic conditions, we'll have to wait and see. But ultimately this target has to be deliverable and the costs of delivering are a factor."

NZ repeals ban on carbon-fueled power plants

The Associated Press
Published: December 18, 2008

WELLINGTON, New Zealand: New Zealand's new center-right government Thursday abolished a 10-year-old ban on new carbon-fueled power generation, continuing a rollback of laws aimed at cutting greenhouse gas emissions and fostering sustainable energy.
Green Party lawmakers immediately attacked the move, calling it a retrograde step that rejected one of the easiest means by which New Zealand could reduce output of greenhouse gases.
The National Party-led government, elected in November, has recently repealed or announced it will repeal eco-friendly legislation enacted by its predecessor.
On Wednesday, it repealed a bill requiring oil companies to include a biofuels component in petrol and diesel. It has suspended New Zealand's emissions trading scheme and has said it will overturn legislation aimed at replacing incandescent light bulbs with power-saving alternatives.
Green Party leader Jeanette Fitzsimons said New Zealand's per capita emissions were about five times the global average and urgent measures were needed to reduce them. Power generation contributed 10 percent of the country's emissions and a focus on renewable generation was essential.

"Let's tackle what's easy first. Let's tackle the emissions that you can reduce at virtually no cost and with virtually no other downside," she said.
Fitzsimons said officials had told the previous government a target of 90 percent renewable energy, up from its current 70 percent, could be reached with "negligible cost."
Energy minister Gerry Brownlee said a decline in rainfall in areas used for hydro electrical generation meant coal and gas had produced more than half of New Zealand's electricity over the last few years.
"Without those two fuels, the lights would not stay on," he said.
Modern gas-fired stations gave off few emissions and could run around the clock generating large amounts of electricity, Brownlee said.

Legal move to crack down on climate protesters

Afua Hirsch and John Vidal
The Guardian, Thursday 18 December 2008

The attorney general is considering asking the courts to clamp down on high-profile, direct-action protests on issues such as climate change, the Guardian can exclusively reveal.
Six Greenpeace protesters, who were acquitted in September of criminal damage for their demonstration at the Kingsnorth coal-fired power station in Kent, now face having their case referred to the court of appeal in what is believed to be an attempt to increase convictions for direct-action protests.
The six were acquitted after they successfully persuaded a jury that the demonstration, in which they scaled a 200 metre chimney in an attempt to paint Gordon Bin It , was intended to prevent greater damage to property from the imminent threat of global warming.
The defence centred particularly on plans for the new-generation station - Kingsnorth II - planned for the site.
The jury accepted the defence of lawful excuse after an eight-day trial which included evidence from the ecologist Zac Goldsmith and Professor Jim Hansen, the Nasa scientist regarded as one of the world's leading climate change experts.
Jurors were shown maps of the Kent region depicting coastal areas where property and land would be at risk of being submerged by rising sea levels and heard from a representative of Greenland's Inuit community who described watching their villages "eroding into the sea".
Although the verdict received international acclaim, described in the New York Times this week as one of 2008's "ideas of the year" and endorsed by former US vice-president Al Gore, prosecutors are believed to have been angered at the acquittal. According to a letter seen by the Guardian, the attorney general is considering using her power to refer cases to the court of appeal to "clarify a point of law". It is believed to be an attempt to limit the circumstances in which protesters could rely on "lawful excuse".
If successful, the referral could prevent juries finding in favour of such "lawful excuse" arguments. Prosecutions of protesters against GM crops, incinerators, new roads and nuclear, chemical and arms trade companies have all collapsed after defendants argued that they had acted according to their consciences and that they were trying to protect property or prevent a greater crime.
Should the "lawful excuse" defence prove to be unusable by protesters, Britain can expect many more environmental and peace activists to be convicted - something which could backfire against a government accused of drastically curtailing the right to protest in the last five years.
Prosecutors were understood to be furious that the jury acquitted the Kingsnorth protesters, arguing that allowance for demonstrations did not extend to breaking the law.
But a lawyer familiar with the case told the Guardian: "Juries are a reflection of the public. In this case the jury spent two days carefully thinking about more than a week's evidence and they came to a conclusion. This is a ... sinister effort to undermine their decision".
The attorney general's action is also being criticised as at odds with government rhetoric on tackling climate change. "Ed Milliband wanted a social movement on climate change but this government doesn't seem to trust members of the public such as jurors to actually decide what's right and wrong on climate change," said Ben Stewart, one of the acquitted protesters. "The verdict was a damning indictment on government policy - after reading it the government should be dismantling plans for Kingsnorth II not trying to dismantle the jury system."
Another lawyer familiar with the case told the Guardian: "If the government think it is wrong for protesters to rely on lawful excuse they should pass an amendment to the law through parliament. They don't have courage to do that - instead they are making a very significant attempt to interfere with the jury's decision."

Greenland melt seems to be picking up speed

The Associated Press
Published: December 17, 2008

WASHINGTON: More than two trillion tons of land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska have melted since 2003, according to new NASA satellite data that show the latest signs of what scientists say is global warming.
More than half of the loss of landlocked ice in the past five years has occurred in Greenland, based on measurements of ice weight by the Grace satellite, said a NASA geophysicist, Scott Luthcke. The Greenland melt seems to be accelerating, he said.
NASA scientists planned to present their findings Thursday at the American Geophysical Union conference in San Francisco. Luthcke said Greenland figures for the summer of 2008 were not yet complete, but the ice loss this year, while still significant, would not be as severe as in 2007.
The news was better for Alaska. After a precipitous drop in 2005, land ice increased slightly in 2008 because of large snowfalls, Luthcke said. Since 2003, when the NASA satellite started taking measurements, Alaska has lost 400 billion tons of land ice.
In assessing climate change, scientists generally look at several years to determine the overall trend. Melting of land ice, unlike sea ice, increases sea levels very slightly. In the 1990s, melting Greenland ice did not make world sea levels rise; now that island is adding about half a millimeter to the sea level a year, said Jay Zwally, a NASA ice scientist.

Melting land ice in Greenland, Antarctica and Alaska has raised global sea levels about one-fifth of an inch in the past five years, Luthcke said. Sea levels also rise from water expanding as it warms.
Other research being presented this week at the geophysical meeting points to more concerns about ice melting because of global warming, especially sea ice.
"It's not getting better; it's continuing to show strong signs of warming and amplification," Zwally said. "There's no reversal taking place."
Scientists studying sea ice will announce that parts of the Arctic north of Alaska were about 5 to 6 degrees Celsius, or 9 to 10 degrees Fahrenheit, warmer this past autumn, a strong early indication of what researchers call the Arctic amplification effect. That is when the Arctic warms faster than predicted, and when warming there is accelerating faster than elsewhere on the globe.
As sea ice melts, the Arctic waters absorb more heat in the summer, having lost the reflective powers of vast packs of ice. That absorbed heat is released into the air in the autumn. That has led to autumn temperatures in the last several years that are 3.5 to 6 degrees Celsius warmer than they were in the 1980s, said Julienne Stroeve, a research scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado.
That is a strong and early impact of global warming, she said.
"The pace of change is starting to outstrip our ability to keep up with it, in terms of our understanding of it," said Mark Serreze, senior scientist at the snow and ice data center, a co-author of the Arctic amplification study.
Two other studies presented at the conference assess how Arctic thawing is releasing methane - a potent greenhouse gas. One study shows that the loss of sea ice warms the water, which warms the permafrost on nearby land in Alaska, thus producing methane, Stroeve said.
A second study suggests even larger amounts of frozen methane are trapped in lake beds and sea bottoms around Siberia and they are starting to bubble to the surface in some spots in alarming amounts, said Igor Semiletov, a professor at the University of Alaska in Fairbanks. Late last summer, Semiletov found methane bubbling up from parts of the East Siberian Sea and the Laptev Sea at levels 10 times higher than those of the mid-1990s, he said.
The amounts of methane in the region could dramatically increase global warming if they get released, he said. That, Semiletov said, "should alarm people."

EU Parliament passes climate change plans

The Associated Press
Published: December 17, 2008

STRASBOURG, France: The European Parliament voted Wednesday to endorse a package of bills to enable EU governments to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 20 percent by 2020.
The lawmakers voted overwhelmingly in favor of six bills, passing the deal negotiated by European Union leaders last week on how carbon dioxide emissions will be reduced in the 27-nation bloc.
The final vote comes after 11 months of often arduous negotiations between the European Parliament and national governments and lobbying by business and environmental groups.
Environmental campaigners complained the plan falls short of what is needed to tackle climate change.
"The Parliament has marginalized itself by lacking the courage to make even small changes to the compromises negotiated," said Joris den Blanken from Greenpeace.

The EU's largest business and industry lobby, BusinessEurope, which represents 20 million companies, was also critical, despite achieving concessions that watered down efforts to include heavy industry in an emissions trading plan.
"I am still concerned about the cost effect on European companies which have already done a great deal to reduce emissions," said Philippe de Buck, director general of BusinessEurope.
The complex laws will set out an ambitious target to reduce energy consumption across the EU by 20 percent by tapping into more renewable sources like wind, sun and hydroelectricity. Emissions by new cars will also be capped.
The EU agreement also includes a system — starting in 2013 — of auctioning industrial emission permits that are now issued free of charge. Major polluters will eventually pay €48.28 billion ($66 billion) a year for this permission to pollute.

£1 million boost for marine power

Technology used in aviation and the oil industry is to form part of a £1 million plan to boost wave and tidal power in the UK.

By Louise Gray, Environment Correspondent Last Updated: 12:29AM GMT 18 Dec 2008

Energy from the sea could provide up to 20 per cent of the UK's current electricity.
However at the moment the renewable power is too expensive, compared to other options such as wind farms.
The Carbon Trust, an organisation set up by the Government to boost green energy, is to invest £1 million over the next year to try reduce the cost of generating marine power by 20 per cent. Research will include investigating the possibility of using giant turbines used on aeroplanes and hydraulics used in the oil industry.
Lord Hunt, energy innovation minister, said the UK must lead the world in the sector.
"These innovative technologies, when proven to be commercially viable, could play a significant role in meeting our renewable and climate change targets," he said.
The announcement came as the Liberal Democrats called for a new "green road out of the recession".
Leader Nick Clegg said his party would scrap the Government's temporary 2.5 per cent cut in VAT and spend the £12.5 billion on "green" measures to kick-start the economy instead.
The plan would include a five-year programme to insulate every school and hospital; subsidies for home energy efficiency; 40,000 new zero-carbon homes; improvements to rail lines and 700 new train carriages.
The Government announced a consultation on plans to make all homes zero carbon by 2016 yesterday.
However campaigners have warned the economic downturn could threaten the target as the construction industry is investing less in innovative building methods and less people will be updating their homes to improve energy efficiency.

Scientists to investigate how to make green fuel from seaweed

Seaweed could be used to make clean, green fuel.

By Simon Johnson, Scottish Political Editor Last Updated: 10:55PM GMT 17 Dec 2008

A team of Scottish, Irish and Northern Irish marine experts have been handed £5million to investigate the feasibility of farming the plants for use as a transport fuel and for heating homes.
They could either be burned or allowed to decompose, a process that produces gases and oils that potentially could be used as a fuel.
Announcing an EU grant for the research, Alex Salmond, the Scottish First Minister, said: "The £5million investment is a welcome boost to what is proving to be one of our most resilient and promising sectors in these challenging economic times.
"The development of mari-fuels could have a lasting impact on remote and rural communities by providing locally produced, relatively cheap, low impact fuel as well as serving the local public transport infrastructure."
He claimed the BioMara tri-partite research project could bring in long-term economic benefits, including hundreds of jobs in island and other remote areas.
Eamon Ryan, the Irish energy minister, added: "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. There is huge potential for this, provided it can be proven as viable."
The Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (SAMS) in Oban will lead the research, in partnership with Queens University Belfast and the University of Ulster in Northern Ireland, and the Institutes of Technology in Dundalk and Sligo in Ireland.
They aim to demonstrate if locally produced biofuels can be made from seaweed and algae, as an alternative to land-based plants. Work will get underway in early 2009.
Previous research by SAMS indicated that extracting energy from seaweed is a particularly efficient and reliable method of producing green energy.
Growing the plant does not create pressure on supplies of arable land and water in the way that agricultural crop biofuels does.
Methane from the algae could also be used to generate electricity, for example, while the residue could be used as a nutrient supplement for agricultural crops.

Kelp-fuel cars on the horizon in Scotland

Severin Carrell, Scotland correspondent, Wednesday 17 December 2008 18.12 GMT

The Hebridean Seaweed Company, established this year by Martin Macleod, is so far the UK's only gatherer and producer of seaweed. Photograph: Murdo MacLeod/Guardian
Motorists may soon be driving cars powered by kelp and algae after scientists in Scotland and Ireland won European funding today for a new research project to create "mari-fuels" - the marine equivalent to plant-based biofuels.
Marine scientists based in Oban north of Glasgow are to lead a €6m (£5m) research programme which will investigate ways of converting seaweeds and plant algae into fuel as an alternative to the increasingly controversial use of food crops to produce bio-fuels. Fuels produced from plants are, in theory at least, carbon neutral and for that reason an attractive alternative to petrol.
The Scottish Association for Marine Sciences (Sams) laboratory has been pioneering techniques for exploiting the UK's vast quantities of wild seaweed stocks, particularly kelp, the ubiquitous, brownish weed which is common along the British coastline.
Ministers want 2.5% of all the petrol and diesel used in the UK to be from renewables sources, as the crops grown to produce the plants used in the fuel mixture absorb the CO2 released by the fuel, reducing its impact on climate change.
But unlike the plants currently used for bio-diesel such as oil seed rape, sunflower oil or palm oil, seaweed naturally grows at an extremely fast rate and it avoids taking valuable agricultural land out of food production or destroying rainforest - key concerns of environmentalists.
It is also likely to be more easily converted into ethanol, then mixed with diesel to create bio-diesel, or into methane, which could be burnt for electricity.
The EU funding, supplemented by money from economic development agencies in the UK and Ireland, will be shared by scientists at Sams, and scientists at Queens University in Belfast, the University of Ulster, and the Institutes of Technology in Dundalk and Sligo in Ireland.
Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister, said the BioMara research project was another significant boost in the quest to find alternative fuel sources and also economic development in marginal rural areas.
"The development of mari-fuels could have a lasting impact on remote and rural communities by providing locally produced, relatively cheap, low impact fuel as well as serving the local public transport infrastructure," he said.
Dr Ben Wilson, who heads an informal "blue energy" research group at SAMS involved in marine sources of renewable energy, said one of the major problems with using agricultural crops for bio-fuels was that it wasted potential food sources.
Marine fuel sources such as farmed or wild kelp, "completely side-step that argument". He added: "We won't have kelp fuel in every forecourt but it will be a niche in this requirement to produce alternatives to hydrocarbon fuel sources."
Research at the Sams laboratory also suggest that seaweed has another valuable quality - it thrives on the potentially damaging waste discharged by the salmon farms which dot Scotland's coastline. Salmon excrete ammonia and nitrates which, in concentrated doses, pollute surrounding waters.
But these chemicals are also nutrients for seaweed and sea urchins - a delicacy in Europe and Japan - and other commercial marine life such as mussels and oysters. Sams scientists believe exploiting the waste from fish farms could have substantial environmental benefits.
The laboratory has tested the theory at Loch Duart salmon farm in north-west Scotland, which has planned to commercially market the seaweed and sea urchins cultivated near its fish-farm cages. Seaweed grown near the farm doubled in size in a month.
Kelp is already highly sort after by the cosmetics and pharmaceutical industries because of its chemical, culinary and medicinal properties. Kelp harvesters in the Western Isles can earn £250 a day and one local producer recently estimated his firm would need to cut kelp 24 hours a day to satisfy demand.