Marine macroalgae, also referred to as seaweeds or kelp, are a group of exceptionally diverse aquatic plants. Macroalgae can be found along nearly all coastlines around the globe and in some cases also in the open ocean. They have traditionally been used for food and feed, as well as fertilizer. In 2016, the world produced approximately 26 million wet metric tons of seaweed, primarily through highly labor-intensive farming techniques. While macroalgae production has increased six-fold over the past quarter-century, the current state of macroalgae “mariculture” is not capable of achieving the scale, efficiency and production costs necessary to support a seaweed-to-fuels industry. Dramatically increasing productivity will require significant advancements in the domestication of macroalgae and new farming technologies. To accelerate the development of critical tools and technologies, the MARINER program is supporting projects in five areas: 1) Integrated Cultivation & Harvest System Design, 2) Critical Enabling Components, 3) Computational Modeling, 4) Monitoring Tools, and 5) Breeding & Genomic Tools.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
The Kampachi Farms team will lead a MARINER Category 1 project to design and develop technologies to deliver deep seawater nutrients to a novel macroalgae production farm concept suitable for deployment in tropical and subtropical deep ocean environments. The superstructure of macroalgae farms typically consists of an anchor grid that tethers the farm in a fixed location and orientation. The Kampachi Farms team aims to disrupt this model by designing a macroalgae array anchored by a single-point mooring, or anchor point. Single-point mooring will allow the farm to align itself with the current, drastically reducing stress loads and improving the efficiency of nutrient dispersal. Additionally, the team has proposed a low-cost upwelling system to deliver nutrients from deeper waters to the macroalgae farm above to solve the issue of low nutrient content surface waters that would slow macroalgae growth. Since the nutrients will always flow downcurrent, and the farm self-aligns itself in that direction, the upwelled nutrients will be more efficiently dispersed across the array. The team believes that these elements, when tested and refined together, can reduce the capital and operating cost of macroalgae cultivation, while increasing the range of deployment into a large swath of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone that is currently inhospitable to commercial macroalgae cultivation because of the high costs to moor arrays and the lack of nutrients in surface waters.
If successful, MARINER projects strive to develop the tools needed to allow the United States to become a world leader in marine biomass production for multiple important applications, including the production of biofuels.
Production of biofuels and bioenergy from domestically produced marine biomass could ensure that the U.S. has at its disposal a scalable, domestic source of low-carbon energy supplies.
Growing large amounts of macroalgae would not compete with land-based food crops, requires no fresh water and can be grown without the addition of energy-intensive, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Large-scale macroalgae cultivation may help reduce the negative effects of nutrient overload and ocean acidification in many coastal ocean regions.
A domestic macroalgae industry would not only create a valuable new source of domestic energy, but also create significant new economic and employment opportunities in many waterfront communities along the U.S. coasts from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and the Pacific Islands.