Seaweed: The food and fuel of the future?

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Adrienne Murray

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The chilly water across the Faroe Islands is just right for seaweed cultivation

Sunshine has given strategy to wind and rain, because the motorboat chugs thru a fjord within the Faroe Islands.

“Its a bit of windy right here,” says Olavur Gregarsen. “We will see how a ways we will be able to get to the harvesting boat.”

We quickly achieve a sheltered spot the place steep mountains are having a look down on masses of buoys bobbing within the sea.

“They’re conserving up a horizontal line,” explains Mr Gregarsen, the managing director of Ocean Rainforest, a seaweed manufacturer. “At each metre any other line hangs down, and that’s the reason the place the seaweed grows.”

Breaking waves

Anchored to the ocean ground, the cultivation rig is composed of 50,000m (164,000toes) of underwater lattice-like ropes, designed to resist tough sea stipulations.

“The principle construction is 10m down. That manner we keep away from the biggest breaking waves,” he says.

In spite of the Danish territory’s faraway North Atlantic location, Mr Gregarsen says the deep, nutrient-rich, waters are smartly suited to rising seaweed, with a strong temperature of between 6C and 11C.

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Adrienne Murray

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Ocean Rainforest plans to double manufacturing

His company is amongst a wave of seaweed farms that experience sprung up in Europe and North The united states, spurred via a rising call for from the meals business and others.

“You have got a biomass that can be utilized for meals and feed, and changing fossil-based merchandise like packaging subject matter from plastic,” he says.


Seaweeds are fast-growing algae. They utilise power from daylight, and soak up vitamins and carbon dioxide from the seawater. Scientists recommend seaweed may just assist struggle local weather exchange and offset carbon emissions.

Ocean Rainforest not too long ago gained investment from the USA Division of Power to construct a an identical device in California, the place there is pastime in growing industrialised seaweed manufacturing for long term biofuels.

Aboard the harvesting boat the skipper controls a mechanical arm that lifts traces from the water. The seaweed is chopped unfastened, filling up packing containers. It is fast however messy paintings. The traces are then left to regrow. This yr round 200 tonnes can be harvested.

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Adrienne Murray

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Ocean Rainforest not too long ago gained investment from the USA Division of Power

However the corporate is scaling up, and plans to double its capability this yr. It is not being profitable simply but, however expects to quickly, Mr Gregarsen tells me.

“We will see how we will be able to mechanise this, how we will be able to make this a actually large-scale environment friendly process,” he says.

“There don’t seem to be many corporations that do that as a successful trade, if any.”

Cosmetics and drugs

Seaweed must be processed briefly. At a small plant within the Faroese village of Kaldbak, machines blank the harvest. Some is dried and equipped to meals producers. The remaining is fermented and shipped to animal feed manufacturers.

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Adrienne Murray

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Seaweed is used to make meals components, textiles and gasoline

Maximum farmed seaweed is ate up in meals, however extracts are utilized in all kinds of goods. If it is toothpaste, cosmetics, drugs or dog food, those incessantly comprise hydrocolloids derived from seaweed, that have gelling or thickening homes.

And extra merchandise are coming, with different companies operating on textiles and plastic possible choices, together with biodegradable packaging, water tablets, and ingesting straws.

Extra Generation of Trade

Seaweed manufacturing has boomed. Between 2005 and 2015 volumes doubled, surpassing 30 million tonnes once a year, studies the UN’s Meals and Agriculture Group. This is a trade price greater than $6bn (£5bn) international.

But just a fraction of cultivation occurs outdoor Asia, the place farming is a original, however most commonly labour-intensive process.

‘Numerous effort’

“The labour price is actually excessive in Europe, in order that’s one primary a part of it,” explains Annette Bruhn, who’s a senior scientist at Aarhus College in Denmark.

“Numerous effort must be put into mechanisation and upscaling.”

To make farming economical, she says “the yield wishes to head up and the price wishes to head down”.

However farming techniques are not simply replicated. “Other spaces in several waters, all require changes. There is now not one answer that may be anticipated to suit all,” says Ms Bruhn.

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Harald Bjorgvin

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Seaweed makes use of carbon dioxide from the ocean

On the other hand, she is hopeful, and says there are “many spaces the place you’ll have breakthroughs”.

That’s what innovators like Sintef are seeking to do. The Norwegian medical analysis crew is operating on new applied sciences to streamline farming.

“Now many of the seaweed is used for meals, however someday we need to use it for fish feed, fertilisers, biogas. We’d like broad volumes and we wish to produce a lot sooner,” says analysis scientist Silje Forbord.

Dry lab

Prototype machines such because the “seaweed spinner” robotically wrap spools of seedling-carrying threads onto traces, in a position for deployment at sea.

Every other idea, SPoke (Standardized Manufacturing of Kelp), is composed of round farm modules the place seaweed grows from traces radiating outwards. It’s designed so a robotic can transfer alongside the wheel-like spokes – both attaching threads wearing juvenile seaweed or harvesting it.

“We’ve got constructed one arm with a robotic going from side to side. That has been examined in a dry lab,” explains Ms Forbord, however extra funding can be wanted.

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Land-based seaweed cultivation

In a chain of ponds and tanks in northern Portugal, AlgaPlus is cultivating seaweed inland.

“It is a a lot more managed setting,” says managing director Helena Abreu, who thinks there are extra benefits in comparison to farming offshore.

“We handle the temperature and the entirety throughout the tanks,” she says. “You have got year-round manufacturing.”

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Ms Abreu says no components or fertilisers are used

Ms Abreu co-founded the company after spending 5 years as a marine biologist within the Azores. Small, high-value seaweeds are produced for meals corporations, cosmetics makers and high-end eating places.


Seawater from a coastal lagoon flows into fish ponds. It’s then pumped thru a filtration device into tanks rising seaweed. There is additionally a hatchery breeding the seedlings.

“We needed to innovate from scratch,” she says.

Those waters are wealthy in nitrogen, which the algae soak up, mimicking nature. “We do not wish to use any components, no fertiliser. We use water from the fish to develop our seaweed,” she says.

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AlgaPlus produces small, high-value seaweeds

Ms Abreu does not suppose availability of land is a restricting issue. Former salt works and fish farms may well be repurposed, she says, pointing available in the market are hectares of availability in Portugal, France, Italy, Greece and Turkey.

Onshore seaweed farming takes position in Canada and South Africa too. Micro-algae also are grown in tank techniques.

However there are different demanding situations.

“The principle bottleneck is power price. Running with tanks you wish to have the pumping and the aeration to stay the water shifting,” says Ms Abreu.

The company can not live to tell the tale on gross sales on my own simply but. However Ms Abreu is satisfied that the seaweed marketplace will keep growing.

“It is a large development,” she says. “Once a year there is increasingly more corporations. There are inexperienced persons in all steps of the price chain.”

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