Industrializing the seaweed sector to bring eco-positive raw materials to the market at scale


North Sea Farmers accelerates the industrialisation of Seaweed production. Seaweed-based raw materials can be used as alternative proteins in food and feed, as bio-stimulants or as a substitute for fossil-based plastic packaging, among many other applications. The story of North Sea Farmers written by  the municipality of The Hague and The Hague & Partners. You can find the original here.

Even though the seaweed market in Asia has been flourishing for a long time, the product never gained a solid foothold in Europe. With the current challenges facing the planet however, our continent is increasingly looking at seaweed as a promising alternative for high-footprint raw materials.

But conditions in Europe are quite different from Asia, and the demand for ensuring maximum eco-positivity in every aspect of the cultivation process poses its own set of challenges. None of those have discouraged North Sea Farmers in their ambitious attempt to develop a scalable, industrialized seaweed sector in The Hague from the ground up.

“When we set out on this mission, we knew that we were taking a giant leap forward,” admits Zinzi Reimert, Manager Offshore Test Site at North Sea Farmers.

A Hague-based industrialized seaweed sector

Zinzi: "We had to plan every aspect of that journey to be future-proof." In other words, the impact on climate and biodiversity should be either neutral or positive, and that counts for all parties in the system. "After all, the whole purpose of our endeavor was to make a positive contribution to our living environment.” Zinzi continues. 

Sourcing seaweed from Asia was never an option as the required transportation would abolish the aim for eco-positivity. And scaling up current European seaweed production, which is 99% wild harvest would disrupt aquatic ecosystems. So with a Netherlands-based industrialized seaweed farming sector in mind, North Sea Farmers started pretty much from scratch.

“There were so many people talking about seaweed farming as a promising eco-positive solution with an equally good business scenario, but no one was actually doing it. We knew we needed to attract a wide range of specialized partners. But for any of them to get aboard, we would have to get started ourselves first. So in 2014 we just did it,” says Zinzi.

Starting from scratch

The team started with a single buoy in the North Sea, to see if the seaweed grew on it. "After half a year, they went out to inspect the harvest, taking along a bunch of journalists without knowing the result beforehand. It must have been very exciting, and a great relief when the result came out really positive.”

Zinzi reconstructs the stories told by her colleagues, as she hadn’t joined North Sea farmers yet at that time. Today, North Sea Farmers have evolved into a 100+ -member sector organization, managing a 6 km2 offshore test site at 12 km off the Scheveningen shore. Partners from various industries collaborate to develop, pilot and optimize their systems, from seaweed farmers to equipment manufacturers and developers of management and monitoring systems, to researchers.

Because the offshore test site already has the required permits in place, organizations can easily plot their innovation there for real-life testing, even as part of a complete farming system if relevant. In addition to the test site, North Sea Farmers provide a platform and community for knowledge exchange and discussions and enjoys interest from the seaweed sector and potential customers from all over the world.

“Our test site and large member base, combined with our ambitions are unique in the world. Nowhere else are so many organizations working together on industrializing seaweed farming. Companies want to tune in to that movement and contribute and learn from it.” Zinzi explains.

“The North Sea is very rough, and some say: 'if you can do it in the North Sea, you can do it everywhere’”. Zinzi laughs. Also, we are really addressing all aspects of the ecosystem, which makes it interesting for international partners because they often have similar issues.

For example, we are focusing on creating multi-use areas by establishing seaweed farms in wind-parks and combining farming with floating solar, artificial reefs and mussel farming, so that we minimize disruptions of both the aquatic ecosystems and shipping routes. This also makes the concept more reproducible in crowded offshore area’s around the world.

Homegrown in The Hague

Their success owes tribute to their location in The Hague, surrounded by the thriving maritime sector in Rotterdam, the world-leading horticulture sector in Westland, a large and highly skilled high-tech industry, leading Maritime research institute Marin, plant and food expertise from WUR, and engineering expertise from TU Delft as well as TNO, a renowned organization for applied research.

Their central location on the Dutch coast means that whenever someone needs to monitor or test their systems offshore, they are there within 30 minutes average, and in 20 more minutes they are at the offshore test site.

Another advantage of The Hague's coastal area, notes Zinzi, is that its business potential is still largely untapped. Unlike the Rotterdam port area, communication lines are short and requests can be processed at a fast pace. Combined with a business-supporting municipality, with ambitious plans for developing the area into a thriving hub for impact businesses, the location is ideal for making North Sea Farmers' ambition a reality.

After 8 years of development, the next big step for North Sea farmers is the start of building the first seaweed farm within an offshore wind farm: North Sea Farm #1. Here the seaweed farm will be combined with an eco-system of all kinds of multi-use like floating solar panels and coastal reefs with mussels and oysters.

This is meant to grow into a large-scale industrialized commercial seaweed farm that will supply bio based materials to the European market and provide an eco-positive solutions that contribute to limiting climate change.

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At Stories of Purpose the municipality of The Hague and The Hague & Partners share stories about developments, innovations and organisations in our dynamic city. There are many hidden gems to discover and thought leaders to speak to in our international city of Peace and Justice. We invite you to explore these stories, get inspired and follow your curiosity.