Around 70% of the world’s oxygen is produced by seaweed, but its capabilities don't end there. Image: Unsplash/Wolfgang Hasselmann
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- Companies around the world are making the most of an unexpected tool in the world’s fight to tackle the climate crisis – seaweed.
- From sofas to straws, this type of marine algae is being used in a variety of innovative ways to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions.
- The World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform provides an ecosystem for innovative companies – like some of these seaweed entrepreneurs – to present ideas that can help to change the world for the better.
Seaweed – it can be slimy around the legs on a swim and gives off a rotting stench on shorelines that can dampen the mood of any beach day.
We’ve all had our reasons to grumble about it. But did you know this humble algae could be an incredibly useful tool for tackling the climate crisis?
Most of the world’s oxygen is produced by seaweed – around 70% – including phytoplankton, kelp and algal plankton. Beyond its ability to absorb carbon dioxide, seaweed also reduces water pollution by absorbing excess toxins, according to the Marine Conservation Society.
Here are five different ways the world is harnessing its power and turning this underwater “villain” into an unlikely hero in the race to save our planet.
1. Seaweed-stuffed sofas
In 2021, the manufacture of furniture produced 988,700 metric tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions in the UK alone.
Furniture foam – the filling for your sofa derived from petroleum – is one major source of emissions in the industry.
Agoprene, a Scandinavian start-up, is seeking to change that. The organization is creating furniture foam made from seaweed and other ocean biomass, meaning it is 100% free of petrochemicals.
2. Seaweed straws
A number of countries have taken steps in recent years to tackle this issue of single-use plastic pollution, of which many policies target the use of plastic straws.
Loliware, a North American start-up, has reimagined this common throwaway product with sustainability in mind.
The company follows a five-step process that turns seaweed into pellets, and pellets into straws.
3. Seaweed packaging
Globally, plastic packaging represents 26% of the total volume of plastics used.
To reduce this type of pollution, Sway has created packaging from seaweed. Using the natural polymers found in different types of marine algae, the packaging can mimic all the best qualities of plastic – without environmental harm, the company says.
And, once the packaging has been used, it can be composted.
What is the World Economic Forum doing about plastic pollution?
4. Deep sea deliveries
Running Tide, a team of engineers, marine operators, biologists and others, have come together to deliver carbon capture packages to the depths of our oceans.
Carbon capture and storage is the process of trapping and sequestering carbon dioxide before it enters the atmosphere, which can help mitigate the effects of climate change.
The US aquaculture company engineers buoys out of wood and limestone, featuring seaweed, which are then dropped into the ocean, most recently the North Atlantic.
The idea is they sink to the seabed where they will hopefully remain for hundreds of years – absorbing and sequestering carbon.
5. Seaweed farms
Given the myriad uses of seaweed, as well as its ability to capture and store carbon, many start-ups around the world have created seaweed farms.
They all mass-produce the algae but for a variety of uses.
Sea6 Energy, for example, based in Bangalore, India, produces biomass for fuel and sustainable raw materials for industries including agri-foods, health supplements, cosmetics, bioplastics and polymers.
Meanwhile, Canadian company Cascadia Seaweed, is seeking to bring its ocean bounty to more dinner tables while providing work opportunities for British Columbia’s indigenous communities around Vancouver Island.
Supporting the world’s ocean innovators
The World Economic Forum’s UpLink platform provides an ecosystem for innovative companies to present ideas that can help change the world for the better.
Together, the companies listed here – a mix of UpLink and independent entrepreneurs – show the potential of innovative solutions to tackle some of our biggest problems.
You can find out what UpLink is doing to improve ”Life Below Water”, a UN Sustainable Development Goal, here.
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The views expressed in this article are those of the author alone and not the World Economic Forum.
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