Why does this matter? Growing seaweed could become big business. As sustainability pressures related to land-use continue to grow, companies are looking to ocean plants as a means of providing not just food for human consumption, but also energy-related feedstocks and plastic alternatives. The sector is growing 8% a year.
Seaweed Solutions, which was founded in 2009, and which is capable of seaweed seeding, farming and processing, has appointed former Aker Biomarine, Akva Group and American Seafoods CEO Hallvard Muri as its chair. Its Norwegian Sea farm, which is reportedly ready to start growing seaweed, has licences to produce 3,000 mt a year.
While Asia Pacific has historically been the largest seaweed market, the US is now expected to become a significant growth area. In the country firms are looking at creating new seaweed farms for biofuel production, such as Marine BioEnergy, which is taking a novel approach by investigating the cultivation of microalgae on submarine drones for conversion into biogas and ethanol.
For seaweed biofuel projects, cost reduction will be key. This is something large farms offshore could potentially help with by providing economies of scale. Researchers have also looked at taking a biofuels route to tackle the problem of invasive natural seaweed, by demonstrating it’s possible to convert Sargassum into bio-oil under high temperature and pressure in the presence of catalysts.
The European seaweed market is also expecting growth due to demand for sustainable plant-based food and health care. In the UK, commercial seaweed opportunities are being investigated in Scotland, with firms such as Shore raising funds to start producing seaweed-based snack ranges and store cupboard ingredients. Elsewhere, Durham County Council is looking at the potential to create kelp and oyster farms off the county’s coast, not for consumption, but to help sequester carbon.
There are additional novel uses for seaweed. The Scottish firm Oceanium is launching compostable bio-packaging made from seaweed this year, with plans to expand production rapidly by 2024. Elsewhere, various institutions are investigating feeding cattle a seaweed-based diet to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, as Asparagopsis seaweed has been shown to block methane production in cows’ digestive processes. Australian firms are now looking to commercialise such livestock feed additives.
The ecological consequences of large seaweed farms will need to be fully understood as the sector grows, however, as some studies have previously suggested they could potentially outcompete other marine life for nutrients.
Source: Undercurrent News