Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Investors Bet on Farmed Kelp

[ed. See also: The Caribbean is Running Out of Coconuts.]

In the remote waters of Larsen Bay, off the coast of Kodiak Island, an experiment is underway. Two types of kelp are strung on lines in the ocean waters, and researchers, investors and commercial fishermen are all watching to see if they grow.

Erik O'Brien, a commercial fisherman, planted the kelp last month. He's one of three Alaska kelp farmers working with a California-based company that's investing in the project.

The experiment could represent the start of a fledgling kelp farm industry in Alaska. But O'Brien isn't sure yet whether the venture will pan out.

"There's way more questions than answers," O'Brien said.

In late October, O'Brien headed out to Larsen Bay. After six months of working through the state process, he had received his permit and planted sugar kelp and ribbon kelp on 4,600 feet of line.

In a few days, after some equipment malfunctions, O'Brien and his team got the lines in the water. It was slow going — much slower than anticipated, he said.

A few weeks later, a storm blew through the bay. He's pretty sure the kelp survived. He's been told the buoys are still floating.

Now, he'll wait to see if it all pays off. He's hoping for 25,000 pounds flourishing on the lines by spring.

Globally, seaweed production is booming. Commercial seaweed markets were valued at $10 billion in 2015, and are projected to more than double by 2024, according to a Grand View Research report released in April.

As a food, seaweed is touted for its health benefits. It has a range of other applications as well — including, potentially, in the global carbon trading markets. (...)

Sugar kelp (Saccharina latissima, a type of Kombu) has an "umami" flavor — a fifth flavor profile in the human palette, defined as meaty and savory. Kelp's glutamic acid (a type of amino acid) is the basis of flavor enhancer monosodium glutamate, or MSG.

Like other seaweeds, kelp offers nutritional benefits.

"People are into that now with food," Perry said. Blue Evolution's new website sells seaweed pasta and seaweed seasonings, marketed as a "superfood seaweed."

It could potentially be used as a biofuel, Perry said, or in pharmaceuticals and cosmetics.

There's also potential profit in kelp as a carbon offset. Kelp removes carbon dioxide — a contributor to climate change — from the ocean. Carbon offsets work when one company that creates carbon emissions buys into another that removes carbon from the atmosphere.

As Perry put it: "They cut me a check if I weigh the seaweed and have a good formula for how much carbon is embedded in it."

There's no federal mandate for buying carbon offsets in the U.S. But the global carbon trading market was $53 billion in 2015, according to Carbon Pulse.

by Laurel Andrews, Alaska Dispatch |  Read more:
Image: Beau Perry / Blue Evolution