How Seaweed can Become the Staple of our Future

By: Keanu Lim
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Rebecca Hale, National Geographic

With 2020 being such a hectic year, some people still forget one of the world’s biggest problems: climate change. In the past, everyone’s idea to stop climate change was to plant more trees, but that isn’t the most effective way to solve it. There’s actually a huge untapped resource that only a few have recently started to utilize: seaweed.

 

What is seaweed?

Seaweed is a fast growing algae with huge potential. Scientists have started to notice its potential and are suggesting that growing the algae could reduce carbon dioxide emissions in a similar manner to planting trees. Seaweed isn’t just similar, but is actually much better than planting trees. Seaweed, just like any other plant, takes in carbon dioxide. The only difference between seaweed and other CO2 hungry organisms is that seaweed is much more efficient at storing carbon dioxide. Along with the algae’s fast growth, large surface area and ease of control using bioreactors, we can clearly see why seaweed can be a huge game changer when it comes to climate change.

 

Bioreactors

A bioreactor is a system or device that enhances a biologically active environment. Algae, when paired with AI-powered bioreactors, can be up to 400 times more efficient than trees when it comes to removing CO2 from the atmosphere. By using this new innovative technology, we can increase the efficiency of CO2 fixation, along with creating a new material called dried algae. This new dried algae can be turned into a variety of different things such as fuel, oils, fertilizers, plastics, and nutrient-rich, high-protein foods.

 

Eating Seaweed

Eating seaweed can provide health benefits too. This fast growing algae contains a good amount of vitamins and minerals along with protective antioxidants similar to the superfood known as kale. Not only can seaweed help with CO2 fixation, but also with other greenhouse gasses. Seaweed, when added to livestock feed, has shown to greatly reduce methane emissions. Even a 1% seaweed diet can reduce methane  emissions by 67%. Methane gasses make up 10% of the Earth’s greenhouse gases but warm up the Earth as much as 86 times more than CO2.


Seaweed as Material

Seaweed can also be used as a replacement for plastic. Plastic can take 100 years to decay, this results in the ocean becoming polluted and animals dying from eating the plastic. Seaweed plastic will be biodegradable and completely recycle into organic waste for the environment. Designers Eric Klarenbeek and Maartje Dros are one of the few that are using algae as a replacement for plastic. The project coordinator Johanna Weffelaar says “Our goal is to ultimately turn an industrial manufacturing process - a source of pollution that contributes to global warming-into a way to subtract CO2 from the atmosphere. Using algae as a raw material would turn any mode of production into a way to help the environment.” 

 

The Catch

If Seaweed is so great, then why haven’t we been doing this in the first place? Well as of right now, farming seaweed just isn’t profitable. Many businesses aren’t big enough to make a profit and not enough money is going into these companies and research into seaweed. This means that sadly, seaweed won’t be used much until several years in the future.