Creating a social license to operate? Exploring social perceptions of seaweed farming for biofuels in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland

Julie Rostan, Suzannah-lynn Billing, John Doran, Adam Hughes

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)
41 Downloads (Pure)


Seaweed aquaculture is a growing industry due to the multiple uses of macroalgae. One such use is bioenergy, which raises uncertainties concerning economic feasibility and social implications. Most industries likely to have an impact on the environment and people are subjected to resistance from communities of interest and local communities. People are now empowered to communicate their expectations and influence industrial activities by granting or withholding their social license to operate (SLO). For new industries like seaweed cultivation for bioenergy, it is crucial to understand and meet societal expectations, and as such, SLO has become a major consideration. This mixed methods study aims to investigate perception of seaweed cultivation for biofuels in potential areas of developments (Scotland, Northern Ireland and Ireland) in order to determine critical considerations for future SLO. As respondents were mostly unfamiliar with the activity, we found that their perceptions are constructed through comparisons and analogies to familiar industries following the social representations theory. While the survey revealed a general positive perception for biofuels from seaweeds, potential SLO for future projects appears to be subject to several conditions: environmental impact, respect of local population's lifeworld and a truthful relationship with the developer. We showed that scale of exploitation is pivotal in terms of perception for seaweed cultivation and is likely to greatly influence SLO. The scale of exploitation along with its effects on communities and environment, as well as dialogue adapted to local context, will require serious consideration by companies looking to farm macroalgae for biofuels.
Original languageEnglish
Article number102478
Number of pages18
JournalEnergy Research and Social Science
Early online date7 Jan 2022
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2022


  • Social licence to operate
  • seaweed cultivation
  • biofuels
  • perceptions
  • scale
  • social representations


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