They grow from 1 cen­time­ter to 1.5 meters in five months. Now they can become our new bil­lion kro­ner industry.

"- We must dare to think new and big."

"- We set out one centimeter long seedlings in January. In late May, they reach 1.5 meter long and are ready to be harvested. It is absolutely crazy, says marine biologist Kaia Kjølbo Rød in Seaweed Energy Solutions to TU."

"By 2050, Norway can produce 20 million tons of seaweed at a value of 40 billion NOK. It is one of the conclusions of a SINTEF report on value creation in the ocean from 2012."

"- It is difficult to predict the future. But seaweed is going to be central to the green shift, says SINTEF's Aleksander Handå, head of a research group for seaweed cultivation at the Norwegian Centre for seaweed technology."

"If SINTEF's future scenario holds true, there must be a production explosion. In 2014, 28.5 million tons of macroalgae was produced - globally. 95 percent of production came from aquaculture in Asia. But more on that later."

On Norwegian plates

"Ten years ago Seaweed Energy Solutions (SES) started researching seaweed cultivation in Norway. Last year was the first large pilot plant in the sea outside Frøya in South Trøndelag."

"This year SES harvests 30 tons of kelp, last year even more. The long-term goal is to cultivate around 500 tonnes of sugarkelp and other seaweed types per year at this facility in Frøya. The ultimate goal is far greater."

"- This is the second year we harvest kelp, and the first year we sell kelp to the Norwegian market. This year, we will find our seaweeds in Norwegian restaurants and other markets, says managing director of SES, Jon Funderud."

"Smalhans is one of Oslo restaurants that put Frøya-kelp on the menu this year. The seaweed also goes to companies that further refines it to everything from pesto to kelp salt."

"Some kilos are going abroad, where cosmetics manufacturers will use seaweed extracts in skin creams with active biological components."

Started from scratch

"SES has developed and patented a method which involves attaching kelp spores to vertical carriers. The carriers float in the sea and are anchored in the seabed. Here they grow denser in the carriers and is easier to harvest than wild kelp."

"But it is in the hatchery in Trondheim where everything starts. Here they take mother kelps from Frøya, manipulate the plants with light and temperatures corresponding to October weather, so that the so-called mother plants start to produce spores and seeds."

"The seeds are sown onto the rope which is in open seawater tanks. Here they sprout and grow from single-celled spores to one centimeter seedlings within eight weeks."

"- It may sound easy. But when we started in 2006, no one in Norway had knowledge of seaweed cultivation. We have worked hard to find the best harvest time. There is a lot of work with water treatment and getting cultivation protocols under control. We started from scratch, says marine biologist in SES, Kaja Kjølbo Rød."

Requires many employees

"In China, Japan, South Korea seaweed cultivation has been driven primarily for food and fodder for many decades. Here the kelp industry is bigger than farming."

"The Asian methods requires significant labor and are poorly adapted to Norwegian salary levels. The methods are not appropriate if the goal is to produce much larger volumes, like the billion-scenario assumes."

"In Norway there are so far over 30 licenses granted for seaweed cultivation, where SES has the largest one. How many of the licenses are in use is unclear, but most of the activity shall with some exceptions be through small players in the startup phase."

"SES is involved in a lot of research projects, including a three-year project partially funded by Innovation Norway, to show that it is possible to conduct large-scale seaweed cultivation in Norway."

1 ton of kelp = 70 liters

"Seaweed Energy Solutions really began as a research project for the cultivation of seaweed for energy purposes, with support from the Research Council, Innovation Norway and the EU."

"Kelp contains a lot of sugar that can be fermented into bioethanol and biogas, as well as other components that can be used for numerous things, such as supplements and pharmaceuticals."

"Producing bioethanol requires outrageous volumes compared with current production: One tonne of kelp provides nearly 70 liters of bioethanol."

"Thus bioenergy-track therefore is put on hold until a market for the raw material is in place, and new methods and tools are developed to make it possible to produce several million tons."

"And even when this is in place, bioethanol and biogas may only be a small part of the value chain around the raw material, if seaweed becomes a Norwegian billion kroner industry, according to a SINTEF report."

Bioenergy is far away

"- There are certainly 20 years until we can build a profitable plant for seaweed-based bioenergy. But on the way there, we can create many exciting products, believes Funderud."

"The idea is to build biorefineries for kelp, where all components in the plants are refined and used in various products for various markets, the same way as Borregaard utilizes the entire timber log."

"- In a classic biorefinery for kelp we will be able to take out the high-grade products first, for example, pharmaceuticals, health products, bioactive chemicals, food ingredients and food. Then the raw material can be used to make fertilizers, bioplastics and bioenergy, said lead researcher Handå."

"- Only when production volumes are so large that the waste poses a significant output, one can start thinking about profitable production of bioenergy, says Handå."

Smarter production

"Funderud believes the biggest challenge lies in cultivating seaweed in a smarter way than today. Success requires both new technologies, mechanized harvesting and cultivation farther offshore."

"- We must develop vessels and equipment that can be handled in a large cultivation farm. Large carriers shall be dragged into the boat, and the seaweed can be scraped off. We have started the race with mechanization, but it's a long way to volumes of millions of tons. Today we use boats with cranes from aquaculture, says Funderud."

New, effective methods

"Handå from Sintef leads a knowledge platform for seaweed cultivation, Macrosea. With 25 million NOK from the Research Council they will develop biological methods and technical solutions for developing industrial cultivation of seaweed in Norway."

"Another research project, Promac, has received 35 million NOK from the same place to look at methods for efficient processing of seaweed for food and feed production."

"- We must streamline kelp production to be able to produce large enough volume. That applies to the entire value chain. We work both to develop onshore and sea sites adapted to Norwegian conditions for facilitating industrial production of biomass with stability and good quality, says Handå."

- More self-sufficient

"Sintef's report on ocean-value creation in Norway predicts that global trends such as the increased need for food production will help to push value creation in Norway's marine sector and Norwegian interests abroad."

"- Is it realistic that seaweed cultivation becomes a Norwegian industry that generates 40 billion in 2050?"

"- It is difficult to predict 25 years ahead. But the food production we will come to need globally, could push the use of soy protein used widely in fish and livestock production. Here, feed ingredients from kelp can be part of the solution, says Handå."

"Research manager [Handå] thinks Norway must become more self-sufficient in the future, while he also believes that changes in consumer behavior will lead to increased production - and use of renewable resources from the sea."

"- Billion-predition is of course an estimate. But I have faith that there is a basis for a new industry. We must dare to think new and big. Everything is about prioritizing and organizing, says Handå."

(translated from original article)

Original article (in Norwegian):