Opportunities for Small and Medium Sized Businesses

SW-Grow has the aim of increasing economic opportunities in the seaweed industry. This is to be done by developing innovative working practises that can be widely adopted by SMEs. It is hoped that these working practises will help the SMEs involved in this project and in the NPA region to ensure their products are of a consistent and high quality standard, that are easily identifiable.

In order to facilitate knowledge transfer, this page has been created to highlight the work being carried out by the SW-Grow project. An accompanying discussion board has been developed to enable SMEs and other interested parties to register and discuss topics of interest with partners in the project.

Quality Improvement

Quality improvement  deals with improving the quality of the finished seaweed products while simultaneously addressing energy usage and waste, and thus, environmental issues.

Much of the region, experiences common challenges because of lack of competitiveness for the raw or semi-processed product – seaweed has a high water content, resulting in a bulky product for transport accompanied by a drying process that is energy intensive.  Subsequently,  transport costs, distance to processing plants, costs of drying etc. have prohibited development of markets associated with the raw product.  The seaweed resource across the region is abundant and of high quality but has to compete with the global international market. Similarly, large scale mechanical cultivation and harvesting has been identified as having adverse environmental impacts.

Currently, project partners are involved  in novel applications of seaweed cultivation and processing; developing a precision drying system to improve energy efficiency; and processing  waste seaweed material for use in a Combined Heat and Power system.

TARI have been examining the growth and impact on yield by the geographical location of seaweed, and the relative exposure of the seaweed farm. Figure 1 shows the results from the yield of Alaraia Esculenta ,growing at two different locations on the same fjord. Location A10 is sheltered and AA02 is more exposed. The yield was significantly higher at the more exposed location. Due to the better yield, TARI is now only growing seaweed on the outer, more exposed part of the fjord. As the images in Figure 2 show the quality of the seaweed crop decreases rapidly from June to August due to biofouling. Harvesting time is therefore extremely important. TARI usually harvests the entire crop in early June. Now they are running an experiment to see if the growth season can be prolonged by harvesting the blades partially in June and leaving approx. 10 cm of the blade to regrow. In August they are going to evaluate the quality of the regrown crop.
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Figure 2

Lews Castle College are developing a precision drying system to evaluate the effect of different drying cycles on seaweed quality and energy consumption. This data will be used to optimise industrial drying systems with available intermittent renewable energy. The rig is in the process of being constructed. Load cells that measure the change in moisture content are mounted externally to the drying cabinet to reduce temperature effects on the cells and to ensure a “steady state” resulting in high accuracy and repeatability. 

The team at University of Iceland has been making progress in the palletisation of waste seaweed for use in a gasfier CHP system. The team has been carrying out experiments using various combinations of raw materials to gain insight into the best production methodology. The end goal of this task is the procedure to make waste seaweed-based pellets that can be gasified for energy production (both heat and electrical power). The process of pelletizing the seaweed includes drying. The team has made a prototype drying cabinet for bulk drying and has been carrying out experiments to determine the best operating parameters to have seaweed with humidity levels that are appropriate for the pelletizer and close to what is needed for ample gasification.

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Characterisation and Branding

The main aim of this project is the establishment of a “brand” of excellence for seaweed across the NPA region demonstrating that seaweed from the area is high quality, consistent and sustainable. To achieve this, work is being undertaken on the chemical and biochemical characterisation of the seaweeds received from across the NPA region; development of  a highly reliable genetic toolkit to identify the geographic provenance various seaweed species; and the creation of a brand identity that represents a sustainably sourced, origin certified high quality seaweed from the NPA.

Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) task is the chemical and biochemical characterisation of the seaweeds received from the other project participants. At SLU in northern Sweden they have received several samples from the project participants TARI(Faroe Islands), Lews Castle College (Scotland), Arctic Technology Center (Greenland) and from Irish seaweeds producers thanks to the very active help of Údarás na Gaeltachta (Ireland). They have received also algae from Tromsø in Northern Norway. Once received the seaweeds have been milled to a fine powder and successively analysed for carbon and nitrogen content and, for few samples of Alaria esculenta andPalmaria palmata, a full chemical characterisation of 23 elements including heavy metals have been performed. Some of the samples received have been analysed for amino acids content, soluble sugars, total carbohydrates and fatty acids composition. To analyse lipids the first step is extraction, by pressurized liquid extraction, using the Speed Extractor (Fig. 2). With this instrument they could extract seaweed lipids (Fig. 3) in a time efficient way using non-toxic organic solvents compared to traditional extraction methods. The work they are doing will showcase the chemical and biochemical properties of seaweeds in the NPA and will enable analysis of different seaweed samples across the NPA.
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At NUI Galway, a team of researchers are developing a highly reliable tool to identify geographic provenance of two species of seaweeds; Palmaria palmata (Dulse) and Alaria esculenta. Their method is based on the use of Next Generation Sequencing technology, which allowed them to identify genetic markers specific to the location where seaweed individuals have been harvested. These genetic markers pinpoint very small variations in the DNA makeup between seaweed varieties and are typically called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs).

In their original experiments, NUI Galway found numerous SNPs on genomic sequences between Palmaria palmata and Alaria esculenta individuals harvested in Ireland and Faroe Islands and these SNPs allowed them to clearly distinguish individuals originating from both countries, and even at different locations for the Faroe Islands. Figure 9 shows the geographical separation for some Alaria esculenta samples collected in the Faroe and Ireland. Further experiments were carried out on samples received from UK, France, Denmark, Norway and Greenland, covering a wide area of NPA region (Figure 10).

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These developments are allowing them to identify discriminatory SNP markers for the development of a strong brand label for NPA seaweed products. It also has the potential to be used to monitor seaweed farms over time and identify the introduction of alien strains. More broadly, it could be a powerful tool to monitor effects of climate change on the diversity of seaweed populations .

An Lanntair have been busy working on the final branding aspect of SW-Grow. This brand will represent a sustainably sourced, origin certified high quality seaweed from the NPA. Within the development stages of this brand, extensive research has been carried out on past and existing seaweed brands, products and research that is in the market. The images below showcase just some of the work that the team have been producing for the brand.
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Piloting and Evaluation

Another objective of the project is to increase economic opportunities in the seaweed industry by developing working practices that can be widely adopted and implemented as best practice by SMEs in the NPA region. Consequently, SMEs and other interested parties are invited to participate in piloting and evaluation projects centred on the current work being undertaken by project partners. Currently, the areas that have most potential for collaboration are in the fields of energy efficiency and cultivation.

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Lews Castle College is developing software  to optimise a seaweed drying system using wind and battery power (Figure 12). The operating principle of the system is that when energy is available from the wind turbine it is used to run the drier and excess energy is used to charge the battery. If there is insufficient energy from the wind turbine, the energy is supplimented by that obtained from the battery.

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The system has been modelled in software and, along with multivariate optimisation techniques, such as the genetic algorithm, used to optimise a seaweed drying system based on the the priorities of the user (e.g. minimum initial expenditure, minimum payback period, maximum lifespan, return on investment). Figure 13 shows the model front end.

Inputs to the model are:

  • Hourly windspeed for year
  • Hourly seaweed production for year
  • Wind turbine rated capacity and hub height
  • Battery capacity
  • Energy required to dry tonne of seaweed

In addition, they are evaluating two meteorological data sources, one which is the European Union’s ERA5 and the other is the NASA MERRA-2 data set against the UK Met Office experimental data to evaluate which of these is more representative of the real world. They can then incorporate the most accurate data model into the optimisation software.

TARI – Faroe Seaweed is a company specialised in macroalgal cultivation and further processing, and have more than 10 years of experience within this field. The company owns an operates a land based macroalgal hatchery and sea based macroalgal farm.

The requirements for a seaweed hatchery are:

  • cleaned seawater
  • light
  • nutrients
  • temperature

Seaweed spores are first grown in nutrient rich water (Figure 14), before being seeded onto ropes (Figure 15), and grown on under light in seawater tanks (Figure 16).

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The seeded ropes are then suspended in the water column in the open sea until the seaweed is mature. Finally the seaweed is harvested (Figure 17). 

In order to disseminate best pactices in the seaweed industry and to stimulate knowledge transfer, SMEs are encouraged to register on the discussion forum. It is hoped that this will become the go to area for SMEs in the seaweed industry who wish to discuss ideas, share knowlendge and explore possibilities for creating shared infrastructure in order to increase efficiencies and decrease costs.