• Culture

Australia’s seaweed industry is blooming: here’s why it’s so good for humanity 

Opportunities abound with seaweed and algae in Australia 

In partnership with Volvo Ocean Lovers Festival

For those who believe many of life’s answers already exist within nature, algae will further your case in point. Much like land plants, algae – which can be as small as a microscopic picoplankton, and as large as a 60cm giant sea kelp – use photosynthesis to take in CO₂, water, and sunlight to produce energy. But that’s where the similarities finish. 

For algae, the energy created through photosynthesis is then exclusively dedicated to self-cloning more algae, and because it doesn’t have stems or roots like other plants, it can replicate quickly. Of course, there are many different types of algae, all serving a different purpose, and just like land plants, some grow fast, while others are slow growing. But when it comes to carbon capture, it’s the green seaweeds that tend to be the most time efficient at their job. 

Generally speaking, one acre of algae can remove up to 2.7 tonnes of CO₂ per day, however the challenge lies in how long the seaweed will hold the carbon for.

“A tree will hold carbon for decades or hundreds of years, whereas in comparison seaweed grows really quickly but also dies really quickly and that end process then releases the carbon back into the atmosphere, if it’s not buried really quickly,’’ says Dr Alex Thomson, University of Technology Sydney’s Climate Change Cluster engagement manager.

“That’s what makes it interesting because we can transform it into really useful things, turning into plastics, to furniture. In our department (at UTS) we turn it into everything from tiles to bricks and through that transformative process it is able to hold the carbon for a long time.”

According to Dr Thomson Australia has arrived at a point in time whereby the scale at which the seaweed industry is set to grow could have a lasting impact on fighting climate change, absorbing carbon emissions, regenerating marine ecosystems, creating biofuel and renewable plastics as well as generating marine protein. 

As well as providing the source for biofuels, bioplastics and biomaterials algae is already in many of the foods we eat as a natural emulsifier. That almond latte you had this morning almost certainly contained algae, confirming that the burgeoning industry is on its way.

“ There are huge numbers of companies globally who are looking at swapping fossil derived plastics, with seaweed derived plastic,’’ says Dr Thomson.

“We work with a lot of people with existing business from fashion to brewing which is incredible, because they are going outside their business as usual, they are going outside their carbon emissions reporting and saying, ‘hey how can I make my business not only more sustainable but really innovative’ and I think that’s where there is an exciting opportunity in this space.’’


Hear Dr Alex Thompson in person at this weekend’s Volvo Ocean Lovers Festival, in her talk Algae Gold, Sunday March 24, 12.15pm, Bondi Pavilion. 


RELATED: How a community event became a blueprint for ocean conservation 

RELATED: Surfers for Climate, custodians of the ocean 

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