Seaweed research steps up pace

Seaweed blog Flinders
Researcher Peng Su at work in the Marine Bioproducts Development joint laboratory at Flinders.

South Australia’s rich marine environment will yield more value-added products under a new research agreement between Flinders University and one of China’s largest seaweed product companies.

Science and Information Economy Minister Gail Gago hosted a joint laboratory signing ceremony at Adelaide Oval this week, which included partner Qingdao Gather Great Ocean Algal Industry Group Chairman Mr Shipeng Wu, and members of a delegation of 150 business and government leaders from Shangdong Province, South Australia’s sister State.

The lab’s work will benefit from a $1.1 million Australian Research Council Linkage grant and funding from industry partner GGOG and its South Australian subsidiary Australian Kelp Products.

Scientists will work to develop clean seaweed manufacturing processes. Using a new processing device invented by Flinders University, the conversion of raw seaweed will use significantly less energy, water and chemicals compared to seaweed processing in other parts of the world.

The value of the global demand for seaweed products is more than $8 billion.

Ms Gago said the project highlights the value of matching the State’s marine science and research capabilities with assistance from leading industry partners such as GGOG – China’s largest privately-owned seaweed products company.

“Over the next four years, Flinders scientists will work to improve seaweed processing techniques to produce high-value products for use in a wide range of improved eco-friendly agricultural fertilisers along with food ingredients and supplements, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals,” Ms Gago said.

“The faster, cleaner biorefinery process developed in South Australia will add to the efficiencies, profitability and sustainability of the new seaweed industry based in the State’s South-East which is set to ramp up production of its agricultural fertiliser and other products.

“Along with our robust aquaculture sector, these associated marine-based industries add to the future of jobs and economic growth in regional centres across South Australia.”

Aquaculture and marine bioproduct development are part of National Marine Science Plan 2015-2025 forecasts for the value of Australia’s coastal and marine industries to double to $100 billion over the next 10 years.

Flinders Deputy Vice-Chancellor (Research) Professor Robert Saint said stage two of the $3 million Flinders-GGOG program would further enhance the efficient and environmentally friendly seaweed processing system.

“China leads the world in seaweed production industries, supplying global demand worth more than $8 billion a year,” Professor Saint said.

“Australia has a largely untapped resource of renewable seaweed (macroalgae) varieties which has so far been under-explored.

“We have the dream here of developing a substantial seaweed processing industry in South Australia based on this new efficient and environmentally friendly processing technology.”

Professor Wei Zhang, director of the Centre for Marine Bioproducts Development at Flinders, said the successful transfer of new technologies through the joint laboratory would increase production of agri-chemicals for the domestic and export markets.

“For the first time, the Australian Kelp Products factory will use a new technology which can produce up to 100 litres of fertiliser at a pilot-scale plant from beach-harvested seaweeds in less than an hour, compared to 2-3 months under conventional processing methods, a process more than a thousand times faster,” Professor Zhang said.

The next stage of development will expand the range of products created from local seaweeds to include novel marine sugar extracts for food and functional food production, and even pharmaceuticals.

Professor Colin Raston, the SA Premier’s Research Fellow in Clean Technology at Flinders University, said the new approach will use Flinders’ revolutionary Vortex Fluidics technology to focus on reducing water, energy and chemical usage.

“It is an innovative approach for clean production of multiple high-value macroalgal polysaccharide products, including alginate, fucoidan and laminarin, which are sought after by the food manufacturing and pharmaceutical industries,” Professor Raston said.

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