Seaweed Demand Increases For Fertilizer, Food, and Fuel

Seaweed is well known for being a nutrient-rich food that actually dates back to the beginning of the founding days of the United States of America. Settlers had clam bakes that would often include seaweed. You might think that the only seaweed you’re consuming is commonly in sushi, but seaweed is a ton of products that you might not know about.


Seaweed has been found as an ingredient for toothpaste, almond milk, face moisturizer, baby food, ice cream, and beer. Seaweed can also be found in some medications without you knowing it.


One of the more uncommon uses that are still in development is possibly making a viable fuel source as an alternative to fossil fuels. British magnate Richard Branson disclosed in an interview, “I think an algae-based fuel should be able to power all planes in the world.”


The hype around seaweed is growing with demand expanding and the commercial seaweed market is estimated to surpass $85 billion before 2026. Harvesting natural seaweed from the ocean will impact the ecosystem and animals that depend on it so the only legal way to harvest seaweed is to start a seaweed farm.


A seaweed farm business requires 20 acres of water; a $20,000 investment; and a boat that might seem like a massive expense, but a seaweed farm can generate up to $90,000 to $120,000 annually. Growing seaweed requires no freshwater, fertilizer, or feed being one of the most sustainable foods on the planet.


Crop of seaweed also helps fight climate change as the crops soak in carbon and nitrogen while helping to rebuild reef systems also acting as engines of restoration. There is an estimated total of over 10,000 types of seaweed, algae, and kelp.


Seaweed is essential for living on the planet as green marine algae produce 50% to 80% of the world’s oxygen supply as seaweed also absorbs carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. The seaweed market in the Asia Pacific region held more than 55% market share of commercial seaweed due to the food industry.


Later in U.S. history, seaweed wasn’t used as food but was utilized in new ways such as gunpowder for the Revolutionary War and chemical weapons in World War I. Some former fishermen have moved on from the harmful industry posing a threat to marine life now focusing on restorative ocean farming of seaweed.


The seaweed farm is set up with ropes of kelp seeds that hang from the ocean surface like a garland with netting baskets with scallops and socks of muscles to grow in. There are crates at the bottom of the structure growing clams and oysters.


The GreenWave non-profit organization is working towards training people to be ocean farmers with the goal of training 10,000 farmers in 10 years and have already trained over 160 farmers with 6,000 participants on a waiting list in the U.S. alone with submissions from over 102 countries.


The program will focus on four quadrants of income through food, byproducts, data, and ecosystem services. Seaweed farms can harvest food, byproducts like bioplastic, data to sell to insurance companies or government entities, and ecosystem services that can be compensated for the farmer’s work of soaking up the carbon through their business.


One of the biggest challenges in this industry is the costs associated with infrastructure/processing plants that can cost up to $1.3 million to assist a farmer in processing 2 million pounds of seaweed annually. Another issue is having the additional infrastructure to process the seaweed in certain forms for consumption that can be a big business expense.


Another big use of seaweed is phycocolloids with deriving ingredients like alginate, agar, and carrageenan that can be found on a nutritional label as food additives that can alter the consistency of a certain food. Seaweed is also becoming more popular as a substitute for meat products that are loaded with a natural source of umami. McDonald’s has even featured seaweed on their menu back in 1991 with the McLean Burger that is a regular burger with seaweed replacing traditional lettuce that was on the menu for five years.