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Fighting climate change with seaweed

Faroese company Ocean Rainforest aims to combat climate change by cleaning the ocean using seaweed.

Increased carbon dioxide in the atmosphere, mostly due to fossil fuel combustion, is driving rapid climate change. As the atmospheric carbon dioxide goes up, so too does the carbon dioxide in the oceans. Like other plants, as seaweed grows, it captures carbon dioxide, and because of its impressive growth rate (about 30 to 60 times the rate of land-based plants), seaweed is ideal for mass scale production.

Ocean Rainforest, established in 2007, is one of the few companies in the world that seeds, cultivates and harvests seaweed on a commercial scale in offshore conditions.

When harvested, seaweed is primarily used in food and feed. Seaweed also has qualities that can replace the use of plastic, be used in textiles and medicines, and serve as biofuels. Ólavur Gregersen, Managing Director of Ocean Rainforest, believes there is great potential for seaweed to solve many of the environmental challenges the world faces.“I cannot see any unsustainable aspects of increasing the cultivation and use of seaweed,” he says. “Sustainable materials are, and will continue to be, in demand. There is an untapped potential here.”

Researchers have estimated that if 9% of the world’s ocean surface were used for seaweed farming, 53 billion tonnes of CO2 would be removed from the atmosphere. If that seaweed was harvested and processed, it could also produce enough biofuels to replace all of today’s fossil fuel energy needs.

Ocean Rainforest, which has approximately 20,000 metres of seaweed lines in the Faroe Islands, aims to be the most reliable provider of high quality seaweed cultivated in Europe. Its mission is to provide a stable source of marine biomass for food, feed, cosmetic, pharmaceutical, nutraceutical and energy products.

Ocean Rainforest is currently involved in a project with US-based aquaculture facilities Catalina Sea Ranch, Patagonia Seaweed and Hortimare, that aims to aid the US in increasing its production of marine biomass.

“This is a great chance for us to export our technology, create business opportunities and market the Nordic region,” says Ólavur.

Today, the world produces 25 million tonnes of seaweed. Iceland and Norway have longstanding traditions of seaweed harvesting, and the Faroe Islands are considered a front-runner in developing offshore cultivation systems. Ólavur believes that the Nordics have the potential to produce millions of tonnes of seaweed within the next decade.

“There is an immense market for products based on sustainable biomass from the ocean. I believe our region has a big advantage here, especially if we can learn how to extract all the valuable components from seaweed in a cost-efficient way,” says Ólavur.

Words: Levi Hanssen
Pics: Ocean Rainforest

This article was originally published on Faroeislands.fo