Researchers are designing the world’s largest seaweed cultivation vessel. Photo: SINTEF. reports that researchers and industry in Norway are designing the world’s largest seaweed cultivation vessel to meet growing demand for the multi-functional algae.

Global seaweed production more than doubled between 2000 and 2014 to around 28 million tons annually, worth an estimated $6 billion. In Norway, which is home to 400 species, demand has begun to outstrip capacity, where much of the sowing and harvesting from cultivation farms is still carried out manually. This is unsustainable; commercial production turnover is already $140 million ­– and is predicted to increase to $4.8 billion by 2050.

Charged with finding a solution is a multidisciplinary research team headed by the largest independent research organization in Scandinavia, SINTEF Ocean, and Møre Maritime AS, a Norwegian ship design company specializing in aquaculture vessels.

Funded $2 million by industry and the Research Council of Norway, the consortium is designing a new vessel specifically equipped for commercial seaweed cultivation and production.

“Most seaweed handling is done manually and/or with help from equipment from other applications that is not adapted to the purpose, resulting in time-consuming operations,” says Andreas Myskja Lien, a research scientist at SINTEF. “This is a challenge cultivators are facing, considering ambitions for expansion and industrialization.”

The vessel is still in the design stage, but a key requirement is that it be equipped for the gamut of operations, from the installation of seaweed cultivation facilities, to the transport and sowing of seaweed seedlings and the preservation of the fully-grown plants during harvesting and transport.

“Using the seaweed for food requires careful handling and preservation of not only the nutrient compounds, but also the aesthetics of the plants, transporting in a controlled environment,” said Dr. Lien. “The on-board systems of the vessel are dependent on the end product. For example, using it for alginate extraction it might be shredded and silaged straight away. Several solutions will be investigated, and the project might result in several specialized concepts.”

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