Start-ups see sustainable future in seaweed farming


When Gaëtan Zackrisson answered a name from a pal in search of assist with a university-sponsored seaweed venture in 2016, he had no thought how a lot of an influence it could have on his life.

At the time, Zackrisson’s information of seaweed didn’t prolong past the menus of Asian eating places in his native Sweden. That modified when he started working with it, and he has not appeared again.

“I understood that there was a sector in this [aquaculture] industry that is growing rapidly,” he says.

Seven years later, Zackrisson is an operational supervisor for Nordic SeaFarm, a University of Gothenburg spin-off firm that grows offshore seaweed for eating places and meals corporations.

A dietary staple in Japan, Korea, and China since at the very least 800BC, seaweed, or macroalgae, is wealthy in protein, sequesters carbon, and might be farmed within the ocean without having for fertilisers or pesticides. Some varieties, when added to cattle feed, can even considerably cut back the quantity of methane — a potent greenhouse fuel — that cows belch out.

Nordic SeaFarms’ Gaëtan Zackrisson says seaweed farming means ‘you use less land and produce more food’ © Kajsa Olsson

This mixture of eco-friendly properties is attracting consideration from entrepreneurs and buyers. According to analysis agency Fortune Business Insights, the worldwide seaweed market is more likely to be price almost $25bn by 2028, up from $14bn in 2020, as companies look to the ocean for much less carbon-intensive sources of meals — the so-called “blue economy”.

While Asia accounts for about 97 per cent of worldwide seaweed manufacturing, curiosity is rising within the US, Australia and Europe. Phyconomy, a seaweed info supplier, reported 41 start-up investments in these locations final yr, up from 2021 and amounting to $120mn.

Nordic SeaFarm operates within the oxygen- and nutrient-rich waters off the coast of Sweden, the place it has licensed 6 hectares of ocean from the federal government to develop sugar kelp on traces of rope tethered to anchors.

Seeds are sourced from mature crops rising close to a completely moored platform and are planted on the ropes within the autumn, the place they develop for months with little to no upkeep. By the spring, the seaweed — which might be eaten uncooked — is about 2 metres lengthy and able to harvest earlier than the water temperature rises and different species of seaweed develop on to the kelp blades, spoiling the purity of the product.

A rope laden with seaweed trails from a Nordic SeaFarms platform in the sea
Nordic SeaFarms grows its sugar kelp on rope traces over the winter, and harvests it earlier than the water warms in spring

The operation yields about 80 tonnes of seaweed a yr in moist weight. This is washed and blanched to do away with extra iodine, and dried within the open or in tents. It is then offered as entire leaves or processed additional and offered to meals companies as flakes or powder.

Nordic SeaFarm can also be rising 2 hectares of ulva, referred to as sea lettuce, with backing from the EU’s BlueInvest fund, which funds sustainable marine applied sciences.

Zackrisson says the corporate is targeted on business-to-business relationships, however is contemplating launching a shopper model when the market is prepared.

“The first step now is to get the product into the restaurants, into the kitchens, in the hands of the chefs,” Zackrisson says. “If you can remove a part of the food that is produced on land and put it out on the sea, then that’s a positive because you use less land and produce more food.”

Aerial view of islands off the coast of Sweden, with Nordic SeaFarms’ ropes showing as lines of green dots in the deep blue water
Blue economic system: an aerial view of Nordic SeaFarms’ operations off the coast of Sweden

In a research revealed in January, within the journal Nature Sustainability, researchers argued that substituting 10 per cent of the present human weight-reduction plan globally for seaweeds would unencumber about 110mn hectares of land — an equal to double the land space of France. They estimate that about 650mn hectares of worldwide waters might assist seaweed farms.

Europe’s policymakers are excited by the chances. “Now is the time to fully harness the potential of algae as a renewable resource in Europe,” declared the European Commission in November, in a paper calling for elevated manufacturing by means of assist for start-ups and streamlining of regulation.

“What’s needed is a couple of pioneers that pave the path, but that will take 10 years and we are crazy enough to take up that role,” says Joost Wouters, chief government of producer The Seaweed Company. “For us, that’s the fun part, all that hitting your nose against the wall, because every day, in every way, we grow better. It gives us a lot of energy.”

The Seaweed Company grows Atlantic wakame, sugar kelp and ulva for human consumption on a 50-hectare farm in Irish waters and on a 3-hectare farm in Dutch waters. In Morocco and India, they develop various kinds of seaweed for its animal feed model, TopHealth.

Joost Wouters, chief executive of The Seaweed Company, helps harvest seaweed
Seaweed Company CEO Joost Wouters says Europe wants start-ups ‘crazy enough’ to be seaweed pioneers © Nathalie Bertrams

One of their core merchandise for people, SeaMeat, combines seaweed and beef into one patty. Wouters believes this hybrid method offers shoppers a product they’re at the very least partly conversant in. “People don’t eat what they don’t know,” he factors out.

It has led to business partnerships with different meals corporations, too, which now incorporate The Seaweed Company’s produce in chocolate, cheese and even an alcoholic seltzer.

“We work with restaurants, with chefs, but also with meat processors,” Wouters explains. “And we say, ‘OK, take your own recipe, what you normally already use. We don’t have to create a new recipe, just replace it.’”

But whereas advocates recommend seaweed aquaculture has the potential to revolutionise sustainable meals manufacturing, critics level to the environmental downsides — particularly whether it is adopted at scale. These embody seabed shading, with daylight prevented from penetrating to decrease depths, gear air pollution from anchors and ropes, and attainable depletion of vitamins.

A SeaMeat burger in a bun with a side salad
Hybrid method: The Seaweed Company’s SeaMeat burger combines seaweed with beef to draw hesitant shoppers

Karlotta Rieve, a venture supervisor at Hatch Blue, an aquaculture consultancy, acknowledges that seaweed farming has opposed results, however says that the majority of Europe’s farms should not sufficiently big to have a major influence.

Although the number of present farming areas make it onerous to measure the general impact on ecosystems, Rieve factors out that corporations should adhere to Europe’s strict aquaculture protocols to safe licences, and analysis paints a broadly beneficial image. “So far, the science indicates that seaweed farms . . . contribute to a more positive kind of ocean environment,” she says.

Wouters emphasises that seaweed is not any magic bullet: the shift in the direction of a sustainable meals system can even depend upon nature-friendly regenerative agriculture on land, in addition to different adjustments. Nevertheless, he’s enthusiastic about its potential. “Seaweed can play an extremely important role in the transition,” he says.