Caulerpa lentillifera, an exceptionally palatable seaweed referred to as “vegan caviar.” Photograph courtesy of the Kampachi Company.

J dropcapason Huffman writes in that the Kampachi Company, a mariculture business focused on expanding the environmentally sound production of sashimi-grade marine fish in ocean-based cages, is planning to make a play in the seaweed space.

The Kona, Hawaii-based company has just received a $3.3 million grant from the US Department of Energy (DoE) Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy (ARPA‑E) program to further its efforts to convert marine macroalgae into biofuels and other useful products. It was one of 40 new projects for which the ARPA-E program recently awarded a combined $98m, according to a press release. The grant is the second from ARPA-E for the company within a little more than a year.

The Kampachi Company’s Kyphosid Ruminant Microbial Bioconversion of Seaweeds (KRuMBS) project aims to culture seaweed for use as fuel, food and feed, Neil Sims, the company’s co-founder and chief scientific officer, told Undercurrent News. Or, as the DoE press release put it, work with other businesses and universities to “isolate, optimize and deploy microbial consortia and individual microorganisms capable of rapidly digesting macroalgal biomass in a highly scalable way.”

Tank trials conducted at Kampachi Farms’ research facility in Kona, Hawaii, have succeeded in helping the seaweed species Ulva fasciata to increase its biomass by 580% in one week.

The company reported being just a few months away from having its first king kampachi harvest and aims to produce 100 metric tons of fish by the end of the first quarter of 2019. By the end of 2019, it hopes to be harvesting at a pace of 1,200 tons per year.

But, Mr. Sims says, “Our work is not solely fish-focused. Our king kampachi is just the most immediately achievable means to these ends. We see innovative aquaculture as a way to mend or mitigate that which ails the oceans…as a salve for the seas, if you will. If we can do this in a way that provides people with nutritious food, or that feeds fish which produce great-tasting sashimi, and then turn a profit at the same time, then that is the environmental/social/ governance triple trifecta.”

Rather than asking the public or governments or foundations to pay for ocean remediation, however, the company sees the prospect of harnessing entrepreneurial initiatives to achieve these goals. “We know of no other means by which humankind can achieve the scale of eco-remediation that is needed for our oceans,” he said.

The company’s separately maintained macroalgae research team has been engaged in land-based trials, trying to identify the best seaweed species for scale-up offshore while also working closely with seaweed culture experts from Chile, where seaweed farming is an established industry, to better understand how to reproduce the vegetation in captivity, Mr. Sims told Undercurrrent.

A partner group at Makai Ocean Engineering, also in Hawaii, meanwhile, has been working to design and deploy a mooring system for offshore seaweed culture and to develop seeding and harvesting techniques, he said. Kampachi is hoping to obtain a phase II award for the land-based seaweed trials that will allow it to extend this work to offshore seaweed culture trials.

Also, as part of its work in the KRuMBS project, the company’s Kona-based research team has been conducting tank trials on rudderfish (kyphosus or “nenue” in Hawaiian), testing a range of diets and refining techniques for spawning and larval rearing, Mr. Sims said.

They are a “highly esteemed native herbivorous reef-fish,” which can be fed the same kind of diet as tilapia but yield an end product that tastes like snapper, he said. The rudderfish are so efficient at digesting seaweed, however, that Kampachi Company’s researchers believe they might be able to co-opt their gut microbiome to improve the efficiency of seaweed “bio-digestors.”

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