Researchers Sander van den Burg, Sophie Koch and Roel Helmes at Wageningen Economic Research (SSG) are part of a consortium that has been awarded a prestigious €9 million Horizon Europe grant to upscale seaweed production and market applications across Europe.
The consortium called SeaMark (short for “Seaweed-Based Market Applications”) consists of 25 international, cross-disciplinary partners. The project aims to lay the foundations for an entirely new European maritime industry to meet growing demand for seaweed-based products and attract investment from multiple sectors.
Sander van den Burg: ‘We at Wageningen are responsible for the ecosystem services assessment, which means we are looking at the positive and negative impacts of seaweed farming on the living environment of people and animals. We will also conduct lifecycle analyses of seaweed products to compare the environmental impact of seaweed-based animal feed, meat substitutes or even cosmetics. We compare these impacts with common non seaweed products.’
Fastest growing crop
For the first time, the team, under coordination of Ocean Rainforest will exploit the full spectrum of products derived from seaweeds on an unprecedented scale – from medicine to cosmetics, human food and animal feed. Seaweeds are among the fastest growing crops on the planet, requiring only sunlight, carbon dioxide and naturally occurring nutrients to grow. They are also rich in bioactive compounds with various medicinal, nutritional and biomechanical properties.
Van den Burg: ‘We are very excited to work closely with the biggest seaweed growers and manufacturers in the world and see what you can actually do with this sugar kelp (S. latissima), which is a very versatile product with a lot of potential. I am personally very interested to see how ecosystems develop when seaweed is grown on an industrial scale. In 2030, SeaMark partners aim for a production of 1 million Ton wet weight (ww) seaweed, which is enormous compared to current European aquaculture production. We will be working on the Faroe Islands and in Brittany, France.’
Twelve innovative products
During the four-year project, SeaMark’s multi-disciplinary team will develop 12 innovative products with direct market applications, predominantly based on cultivated sugar kelp (S. latissima).These include a bio-packaging material, a meat replacer and feed supplements with pre- and probiotic functional ingredients to improve digestibility, conversion ratios and overall sustainability and productivity of conventional livestock feeds.
Alongside market applications, SeaMark will quantify ecosystem services provided by seaweed farms, contributing to a body of evidence justifying large-scale seaweed cultivation as a biological tool to generate the environment and as a key element of a new circular bioeconomy.