Seaweed May Replace Plastic as Future Source of Fuel and Food

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Seaweed May Replace Plastic as Future Source of Fuel and Food

(Photo: Wikimedia Commons)
Seaweed has many benefits; it may be able to replace plastic as a future source of fuel and food.

Seaweed has many benefits; it may replace plastic as a future source of fuel and food.

Seaweed is classified as algae. It is fast-growing, uses energy from the sun, and consumes carbon dioxide and nutrients from seawater. Scientists are suggesting that seaweed may be able to help mitigate carbon emissions and climate change. 

Cultivating Seaweed

A seaweed cultivation rig is anchored to the seafloor. It has ropes that are latticed and have lengths of 50,000 meters or 164,000 feet. The strings are designed so that they can withstand large and rough waves. According to seaweed producer and Ocean Rainforest managing director Mr. Gregarsen, the rig’s main structure goes down 10 meters to avoid large breaking waves.

They have cultivation areas in the North Atlantic in Denmark’s territory. According to Mr. Gregarsen, the site is rich in nutrients and has deep waters. Also, it has a stable 6 to 11° C temperature range. All of these factors make the area ideal for seaweed growth. This year, they will be harvesting roughly 200 tons.

Gregersen’s group is one of many seaweed farms set up in North America and Europe due to increasing demand from various industries, including the food sector. It is gaining demand because it can be utilized as feed and food, and it can also replace fossil fuel-based plastic packaging products.

READ: Scientists Are Baffled by Origin of New Species of Red Algae Threatening Coral Reefs of Hawaii

Production in the US

Ocean Rainforest has recently been funded by the US Department of Energy to replicate its Danish system and build a similar California one. California wants to start industrialized production for use as biofuels.

Large-Scale Production

Gregersen’s company is planning on doubling production this year. They are planning to mechanize their production and make their operation large-scale and more efficient. Gregersen says only a few companies can make seaweed a profitable venture.

Dried seaweed is used in the manufacture of food, while fermented seaweed is used as animal feed. Seaweed extract has many benefits, such as cosmetics, toothpaste, pet food, and medicines. These products have seaweed-derived hydrocolloids utilized for their thickening or gelling properties.

More products may find seaweed useful. Many firms currently work on making alternatives to plastic and textiles. Soon, seaweed may be used as water capsules, drinking straws, and biodegradable packaging.

READ ALSO: Scientists Create Gel Optical Fiber Produced From Saltwater Algae

The Seaweed Business

Production boomed from 2005 to 2015. Supply has doubled and surpassed 30 million tons per year, according to the Food and Agriculture Organization. Seaweed is currently worth over six billion dollars globally.

Farming in Asia has long been established, and the main global production and cultivation occur here. The operation, however, is labor-intensive.

According to Denmark Aarhus University senior scientist Annette Bruhn, European labor is really expensive, so major efforts in upscaling and mechanization are needed to make farming viable and economical. She says that they have to increase yield and decrease costs.

However, she adds that farming systems cannot readily be replicated due to different conditions. Sintef, a Norwegian research innovator, is developing new technologies in streamlining seaweed farming. Another innovator is Portugal-based AlgaPlus, which cultivates seaweed inland.

Helena Abreu, AlgalPlus managing director, says inland farming has advantages such as controlled conditions and production all year round. South African and Canadian farms also grow seaweed inland.

With the seaweed’s potential to replace plastic and be a fuel and food source, Abreu believes the market will still grow since more companies and newcomers continue to enter all parts of the seaweed value chain.

READ NEXT: 50,000-Year-Old Indian Lake Just Turned Pink, Baffling Scientists, and Experts

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