Why are you obsessed with seaweed?
Seaweeds are fascinating organisms and the more we study them the more potential we see in them: they are globally distributed occupying many ecological niches and support valuable ocean ecosystems. We are only now scratching the surface of seaweed potential.
I feel like this should open up with a health warning. Seaweed obsession is highly infectious! If at the end of this article, you find yourself ready to devote yourself to the wonders of the (sea)weed, here’s our careers section.
First off (Mike and Duncan would want me to say something like this) seaweed is a misleading term. We could use the term ’Sea plants’ or, as recently suggested by Vincent Doumziel at the UN Oceans Conference, ‘Sea forest’. However, seaweed is a word that to most people conjures up images of large plant-like organisms (they’re not true-plants, but algae), so while the term may not be wholly accurate, we use it to help people understand the project.
There are 11,000 documented species of seaweed, and they come in 3 distinct groups - reds, browns and greens. Each of these groups is more different from the other than humans are to trees - they have been evolving for an extra 500 million years or, so they’ve had some time to diversify.
Seaweeds have spent all this time evolving to grow rapidly, and, secondly, have evolved all manner of useful and valuable compounds that we’ve only recently begun discovering.
Seaweeds also form the basis of many essential marine habitats. Meaning that biodiversity in kelp and other seaweed forests around the world is often extremely high. As is the case for almost all nature, invasive species and unbalanced environments can result in the overpopulation of a particular species (i.e. the Great Sargassum Belt, or seaweeds that erupt on dying coral reefs), but for the most part, healthy seaweed growth is a biodiversity driver.
Overall, that means that fast-growing seaweed is an incredibly useful biomass.
It has potential to be used in almost all of the areas that we must stop using fossil fuels for to halt the climate crisis (more information on the climate crisis can be found here). They include, but are by no means limited to:
- Carbon dioxide absorption (and removal, depending on what you do with it)
- Animal feed (proteins and lowering cow methane emissions)
- Human food
I could go on, but this is supposed to be an overview!
As seaweeds absorb new carbon as they grow, these use cases could be achieved carbon-neutrally or carbon-negatively, depending on where the biomass is grown, how much CO2 is released in the activity of growing it, and its potential end uses.
Even better. Seaweed doesn’t need land, does not use valuable water supplies or fertiliser to grow. It grows happily in the largest area on earth - the ocean, which has a great deal of space for expansion. It does this wherever nutrients and light are available.
In short, the potential scale of climate positive solutions is enormous with seaweed.
You might, as did I, be asking yourself, why aren’t we doing all these amazing things with seaweed already if it’s so useful? The answer to that question is fairly simple: money.
It’s currently far too difficult and expensive to operate in the marine environment and sell produce for anything less valuable than human consumption. Perhaps animal feed at a push.
It is this challenge that forms the basis for Seaweed Generation. That’s our mission - developing the technology to grow and utilise seaweed at scale that makes it commercially viable for fuel, fertiliser, and even carbon removal.