MBL Associate Scientist Loretta Roberson is principal investigator on the seaweed growth optimization project.

CapeCod.com reports that the Marine Biological Laboratory in Woods Hole, Massachusetts, has received a grant to develop innovative cultivation and harvesting technologies for year-round production of seaweeds in tropical and subtropical U.S. Waters, for use as fuel, chemical feedstock and animal feed.

The award is one of 18 projects funded by Advanced Research Projects Agency — Energy (ARPA-E), an arm of the federal Department of Energy. Termed the Mariner project, the effort seeks to develop the U.S. as the world leader and largest producer of microalgae, or seaweed.

“By demonstrating the cost-effective production of microalgae without utilizing scarce land and freshwater resources, we expect to show that microalgae aquaculture dramatically improves the current economic and ecological performance of algae as a source of biofuel and bioproducts,” said MBL Associate Scientist Loretta Roberson, principal investigator on the project.

The team will focus on optimizing growth and offshore production of the red algae Eucheuma isiforme. These types of seaweeds are currently cultivated in Asia at a rate of 200,000 metric tons of dry material per year for the production of carrageenan, which is used as a food thickener for many food products, such as ice cream.

The current harvesting method is labor intensive, making up almost 70% of the production costs and is limited to easily accessible nearshore areas. The farming system proposed by the MBL project team will seek to mechanize the seeding and harvesting methods to drastically reduce labor costs.