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Growing a global ocean rainforest

Olavur Gregersen, Managing Director of Ocean Rainforest at the Nordic Seaweed Conference in the Faroe Islands in September 2017. Photo: Nordic Innovation
  • Published 19/03/2018
Nordic seaweed expertise to help the US become a world leading seaweed producer.

"In order to take full advantage of the potential of seaweed we need to scale the production and it needs to happen offshore", says Olavur Gregersen, Managing Director of Ocean Rainforest. He just came back from a meeting with fellow project participants looking to aid the US in becoming a world leading seaweed producer.

 

The Faroese company Ocean Rainforest is one of the very few companies in the world that seeds, cultivates and harvests seaweed on a commercial scale in offshore conditions. The fundamental idea behind Ocean Rainforest was to combat climate change through cleaning the oceans. Seaweed captures CO2 and nitrogen in the oceans, and thus has the same function at sea as trees and plants do on land.

 

"Now you understand where our name comes from", says Gregersen with a smile.

 

Seaweed, or macroalgae, has an immense potential to solve many of the environmental challenges we are faced with. When harvested, it is primarily used in food and feed. A recent study from Australia suggests that livestock fed on macroalgae-based feed emits 60 percent less methane than if fed on traditional feed. Moreover, seaweed has qualities that can replace the use of plastic, be used in textiles and medicines, and serve as biofuels.

 

"I cannot see any unsustainable aspects of increasing the cultivation and use of seaweed. Sustainable materials are, and will continue to be, in demand. There is an untapped potential here", says Gregersen.

 

Today the mission of the company is to be a reliable provider of high quality seaweed to the food and feed market in Europe and the US. He adds that more innovation and research is necessary in order to fully be able to utilize the various extracted products deriving from seaweed.

 

"That is what we have been working on for almost a decade now", says Gregersen.

 

 

From the North Atlantic Ocean to the LA Bay


In the fall of 2016, Ocean Rainforest was contacted by Catalina Sea Ranch, an American aquaculture facility operating in the LA Bay area, asking them to join a project on offshore seaweed cultivation in the US. They needed participants with offshore expertise and experience, and Ocean Rainforest was just what they were looking for.

 

"Suddenly we had to establish a new company: Ocean Rainforest US", says Gregersen.

 

Together with Catalina Sea Ranch, Patagonia Seaweed and Hortimare, they wrote a proposal to the the US funded Advanced Research Projects Agency’s Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources Program (ARPA-E MARINER).  They were looking for projects that could aid the US in increasing their production of marine biomass. About sixty project proposals were sent in, only nine were given funding for a feasibility study and further development of their projects.

 

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

 

Ocean Rainforest’s main contribution to the project is to design the cultivation rig needed to grow seaweed offshore in the Pacific Ocean. Gregersen explains that participating in the MacroValue project, funded by Nordic Innovation from 2015-2018, was an important steppingstone for them and the industry as a whole.

 

"The MacroValue project gave us the time to improve our seeding methods, understand seasonal variation of seaweed cultivation and continuously improve our system. The experience and knowledge we gained from this project have been invaluable to us, and gave us a leading position internationally within the macroalgae cultivation businesses.".

 

 

The Nordics lead the way


Nordic Innovation funds projects that contribute to the full potential of Nordic sectors through innovations that can increase business opportunities, sustainability and profitability.

 

"The MacroValue project, along with the other seaweed projects we have funded, are paving the way for this new industry. I am certain that with the know-how and technologies existing and being developed in the Nordics, we will see more countries looking towards our region in the future", says Elisabeth Smith. She is Senior Innovation Adviser and the coordinator of the Nordic Marine Innovation 2.0 programme at Nordic Innovation.   

 

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. Gregersen believes that the Nordics has 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 Gregersen.