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Developing the food trend of the future: Sugar seaweed

01 October 2020

Aarhus University

Fresh, crispy and with a taste note of nuts. This is how the new superfood tastes, the food industry is opening its eyes to. But if seaweed is to be on the dining table, something has to happen in production. It must be both sustainable and large enough for companies to take off. That challenge has a business PhD. Teis Boderskov took over together with Hjarnø Havbrug, Orbicon WSP and Aarhus University.

Young sugar seaweed plants grow side by side on a 12 kilometer line rolled out in Horsens Fjord by Hjarnø Hage. The brown, fresh algae grow and can turn into 30 tons of seaweed when harvested. That's good, says business PhD. Teis Boderskov, for sugar seaweed is one of the sea vegetables and has many uses.

He has dedicated three years to developing the production of sugar seaweed in a more sustainable and at the same time industrial direction. Production must start in earnest. Sugar seaweed is part of the production of the future, he says.

For plate, skin and feed trough

Together with Hjarnø Havbrug, Orbicon WSP and Aarhus University, the business PhD cultivates, harvests and investigates the sugar seaweed on the lines in Horsens Fjord, and many follow. It is not just seaweed research. It is also an experiment that can change the diet of both Danes and domestic animals.

Growing seaweed in Denmark is something that is of great interest as a resource for, among other things, food, skin care and feed for animals. And at the same time, we can improve the marine environment, says business PhD supervisor and senior researcher at the Department of Bioscience, Annette Bruhn.

However, the production has not reached that far yet, but seaweed in animal feed and products for humans has huge potential, says Per Dolmer, who is a supervisor and works with the development of blue biomass production at Orbicon WSP.

Seaweed is definitely a raw material that will be used a lot in the future. Both as a snack, food and feed. The application possibilities are many and can improve both animal welfare and human health, assesses Per Dolmer.

PhD lays the foundation stone for industrial production
When organic sugar seaweed is not yet produced on an industrial scale, it is, among other things, about the EU's requirements for production. Fertilizer must not be used in organic production.

We knew that there were sore points in the production, and now we are investigating how we strengthen them. Among other things, we test different types of fertilizer that are approved for organic production, and have now found out what we can use and in what concentration to optimize organic production, Teis Boderskov explains.

In addition to organic production, the collaboration around the business PhD also provides the framework for Teis Boderskov to make a protocol for further production, and this makes a big difference in the seaweed industry.

It definitely makes a difference. I contribute with development in production, and I have laid the foundation stone to go that step further, so that Hjarnø Havbrug can make production so stable that they can provide greater delivery security for interested customers, says Teis Boderskov.

Education strengthens all parties
The seaweed collaboration does not only affect Danish sugar seaweed production. It strengthens both Hjarnø Havbrug, Orbicon WSP and Aarhus University to collaborate on educating a business PhD, says Annette Bruhn.

It makes very good sense for the university to collaborate with business companies, because the more and closer we collaborate, the more usable, new technology and sustainable resources we can develop. The university has the research that industry can use, and industry can tell us what is moving in the industry and where the need for new knowledge lies. It provides a good starting point for creating development together, she says.

But it can certainly also be challenging for both parties, who work with different time horizons, the supervisor explains. Also for Teis Boderskov, who is affiliated and spends his time at both the university, Hjarnø Havbrug and Orbicon WSP. But it is also part of the scheme, which strengthens the student.

The business PhD scheme is a unique opportunity for collaboration between research and business, and the students really make a big difference. They are dedicated to the research that needs to be implemented in the company, and it gives them a huge advantage in their future career choices to gain that insight into both worlds, the senior researcher explains.

Seaweed provides a healthy fjord environment

The first nets with sugar seaweed were set out at Hjarnø Hage in the autumn of 2018. The first part of the business PhD was about attempts to grow seaweed on large net structures, but since then the focus has shifted to line production to ensure delivery of seaweed and promote the company's sales opportunities.

It presents some challenges in research. Liner is more sensitive to wind and weather and can twist into each other, and at the same time the fjord's wildlife can also affect the harvest of sugar seaweed.

Sugar seaweed is typically harvested in late spring when it is completely clean. When we let the seaweed hang and grow over the summer, moss animals come and settle on the seaweed. This is a problem for industrial production, because companies do not want seaweed if there are moss animals on it. Right now we are investigating the possibilities of letting the seaweed overwinter to get a greater yield and at the same time a clean biomass the following year, Teis Boderskov explains.

A high yield is good for turnover, but it is also good for the marine environment in Horsens Fjord, because the more sugar seaweed that is harvested, the more nutrients are removed at the same time from the nutrient-rich fjord. Business cooperation is not just about development and production. It is also about investigating the effect of seaweed cultivation on the marine environment in Horsens Fjord.

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