Project Blog: The Ins and Outs of European Innovative Seaweed Biorefineries

The benefits arising from efficient seaweed processing and subsequent successful development of new products from its unique compounds provides great opportunities to create significant impact from such a renewable resource. Demonstrating its potential for alternative applications and creating close synergies between the expansion of seaweed aquaculture and the development of novel products will fuel the growth of this emerging blue industry.

The cultivation of seaweed has many advantages over traditional tillage farming, for example it doesn’t require land like forestry and cereal crops. It requires minimal maintenance, there’s no need to provide fertilisers, heating, extra light or even watering! Seaweed looks after itself. So, seaweed aquaculture makes sense.

GENIALG will enhance the value of high-quality seaweed biomass produced in Europe by setting up two pilot pre-industrial seaweed biorefinery plants. GENIALG will promote sustainable seaweed aquaculture in an economically and environmentally sound manner, and at a scale which ensures continued growth, for the benefit of ocean health, human health, nutrition and the global environment.

Seaweed biorefinery is the whole process of refining sustainably cultivated seaweed biomass to become value-added end products. The seaweed is converted into a spectrum of valuable substances which can be used for biopolymers, cosmetics, agri-foods, food supplements and bio-based chemicals.

The process involves pre-treatment, fractionation, extraction, purification and characterisation of the commercially interesting substances. Pre-treatment is a combination of mechanical treatments such as grinding and pressing of the fresh biomass, as seaweeds have a high-water and salt content that must be removed. Fractionation using chemical, physical and enzymatic tools is the start of the separation process where the components of the seaweed are divided into smaller molecules or fractions with various compositions according to the potential of membrane filtration technologies. This is followed by fractionation and extraction of different substances from the fractions such as alginate, antioxidants, fucoidan etc. These extracts are then put through a purification process to remove any contaminants which may be present. The purified substances are then characterised by identifying them and their properties are tested for potential industrial uses by the different companies in the consortium.

More than ever we need to concentrate on a sustainable bio economy and a production system that deceases negative impacts on the environment. Seaweed biorefinery supports a minimal or zero-waste society as any leftover residuals from the process have a use, for example as fertilisers or platform molecules in chemical processes.

The overall objective of the GENIALG project is to make seaweed biomass production more economically and environmentally sustainable by designing high-yielding seaweed cultivation systems that optimise the crops for biorefinery.