GENetic diversity exploitation for Innovative Macro-ALGal biorefinery

Seaweed cultivation vessel to meet growing demand for multi-functional algae

Most commonly associated in the West with seaside holidays and Chinese restaurants, seaweed is in fact present in everything from food to medicines, bioplastics, animal feed, fertilisers and biofuels.

Cultivating this humble algae on an industrial scale is now big business. Global seaweed production more than doubled between 2000 and 2014 to around 28 million tons annually, worth an estimated $6bn.

In Norway, which is home to 400 species, demand has begun to outstrip capacity, where much of the sowing and harvesting from cultivation farms is still carried out manually. This is unsustainable; commercial production turnover is already $140m − and is predicted to increase to $4.8bn by 2050.

Charged with finding a solution is a multidisciplinary research team headed by SINTEF Ocean and Møre Maritime AS, a Norwegian ship design company specialising in aquaculture vessels.

Funded to the tune of $2m by industry and the Research Council of Norway, the consortium is designing a new vessel specifically equipped for commercial seaweed cultivation and production.

“Most seaweed handling is done manually and/or with help from equipment from other applications that is not adapted to the purpose, resulting in time-consuming operations,” says Andreas Myskja Lien, a research scientist at SINTEF, the largest independent research organisation in Scandinavia. “This is a challenge cultivators are facing, considering ambitions for expansion and industrialisation.

“The project will develop a future-oriented vessel concept with associated handling systems, deck equipment, and solutions for seaweed quality preservation. The focus is on effective operations, high product quality and good HSE. This means integrating a high degree of handling and processing mechanisation and automation to deliver predictable and profitable end products to the market.”

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