Automatgenererad bild.

9 May 2014

Mistra supports large-scale algaculture on West Coast

Within the new initiative for sustainable production systems, Mistra is funding a project in which Swedish researchers are to grow brown algae (seaweeds, such as kelp) on a large scale along Sweden’s West Coast. The aim, as for the other five projects in the programme, is to develop new methods for sustainable farming and aquaculture.

Can cultivation of brown algae — algaculture — be a future base for bioenergy and plastic raw material, as well as food? This is the hope, at least, of a research group the University of Gothenburg. A five-year research project is already under way to find out the best way of using algae. To date, techniques for growing algae are in their infancy. The researchers have recently been awarded SEK 15.7 million by Mistra.

‘So far, we’ve only had pilot production plots for research purposes. If cultivating algae, a form of aquaculture, is to become a new industry in the long run we’ll have to develop the growing technique, and that’s the focus of the Mistra project,’ says Professor Henrik Pavia of the University of Gothenburg.

Part of a unique collaboration

In the period 2014–17, five research projects will have to share SEK 62 million in the programme entitled ‘Efficient, sustainable production systems in aqua-, agri- and horticulture’. The programme is a unique collaboration between Mistra, the Swedish Research Council Formas and the research foundation of the Swedish Farmers’ Supply and Crop Marketing Organisation.

‘The new programme is about not only refining or improving current growing methods but also helping to bring about systemic change and trying to find whole new approaches to land and water use. The hope is that one or more of our projects will, in the long term, develop into commercial operations,’ says Thomas Nilsson of Mistra.

Closing the loop

One particular focus of the new research programme is on attempting to close the ecological loops and connect agriculture and aquaculture. Algaculture has this kind of potential. While the algae grow, they absorb nutrient salts from the sea and thus help to reduce eutrophication. After harvest, crop residues can be brought ashore and used to produce biogas or bioethanol.

Algae are commonly grown on long lines submerged in the sea, a few metres below the surface. In this project, the researchers will study optimal growing conditions, such as the best times for placing out and harvesting, cultivation depth and what wave exposure the algae can withstand. Trialling of an industrial textile as an alternative to the present-day lines will take place. The project will also map suitable growing sites along the West Coast, despite a potential conflict of interest between future algaculture and, for example, maritime transport.

Plan to grow algae in Bohuslän

As soon as this autumn, algaculture will start in Kosterhavet in northern Bohuslän. In 2015, Henrik Pavia expects to harvest a few tonnes of brown algae. In five years’ time, he hopes that cultivation technique will be so advanced as to enable perhaps up to a hundred tonnes of brown algae per hectare to be harvested.

‘I hope that in five years from now we’ll have laid the foundations of something completely new. We’re doing groundbreaking work both in Sweden and elsewhere in Europe. Who knows, perhaps someone in the research team in the future will take the plunge and become an “algafarmer”!’

Text: Henrik Lundström, Vetenskapsjournalisterna

Facts about projects in the programme

  • Sustainable, large-scale cultivation of macroalgae in Sweden: SEK 15.7m. University of Gothenburg.
  • Innovative solutions for developing high-quality marine aquaculture in Sweden: SEK 15.9m. University of Gothenburg.
  • Milk production from grass and by-products: SEK 14.9m. Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU), Uppsala.
  • Reducing the ‘harvest gap’ (the difference between actual annual harvests and maximum potential harvests) by sustained intensification of autumn wheat production: SEK 8.4m. SLU, Uppsala.
  • Perennial crops — key components of robust and sustainable production systems: SEK 7.1m. SLU, Uppsala.

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