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The pioneering world of algae

Participants from the Nordic Algae Networks final conference at a small scale test production in Grenaa, Denmark. Photo: AlgeCenter Danmark
  • Published 30/10/2013
More than 80 experts, industry representatives and opportunists gathered in Grenaa, Denmark, to share knowledge and seek for new inspiration at the final conference in the Nordic Algae Network.

 

When visiting a coastal city in the Nordic countries, like Grenaa, it does not take long to notice that fisheries no longer represent the main source of income. In an attempt to keep jobs in the local community, a huge and quite successful aquarium opened a few years ago in Grenaa. It has worked to some extent, but not all places are as successful.

 

What if this development could be reversed and the sea’s resources once again would bring investments, jobs and income to Nordic coastal areas - only this time it would not be fish loaded of on the docks, but seaweed and algae? Not an unlikely future, if you ask Lars Nikolaisen, project leader of the Nordic Algae Network.

 

- Algae are the largest un-exploited biomass resource we have today. It possesses a vast potential as resource for an array of different applications, including sustainable energy carriers, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and ingredients for food and feed industry. 


When asked about the future, Lars Nikolaisen is quick to recognize the development that has taken place in last few years and since the Nordic Algae Network started.

 

- It is incredible. We have moved from writing rapports to building demonstration scale productions. In a few years we will be able to produce in a hectares scale. And within ten years we will have a large-scale production with the industry as buyers.

 

The Nordic Algae Network

 At the conference participants from all areas of the algae and seaweed family attended, and all of them are threading new ground, or new waters to be exact.   

 

- We are all relatively new in this field. Experts come from different Nordic countries, and the network has helped bringing the expertise together. This has created synergies and brought new projects to life, Lars Nikolaisen says.

 

The Nordic Algae Network has aimed at positioning its participants in front of the field of algae utilization for energy purposes, and for the commercial exploration of high value compounds from algae. And it seems to be working.

 

At the podium in Grenaa, participants are explaining how algae already are being used as a sustainable energy carrier, chemicals, pharmaceuticals and ingredients for food and feed industry.

 

- There are still challenges we need to overcome before this becomes a profitable industry, Lars Nikolaisen says.

 

The bottlenecks

Lars Nikolaisen points out to two bottlenecks in the production of marine algae before it can reach industrial scale:

 

- Today much of the labour is done manually.  We need an automated and mechanized production system like the one used in agriculture production. We also need a conditioning system, which secures a reliable delivery of large amounts of biomass at the right time, quality and condition. We do not have that today. 

 

Examples of these future production and conditioning systems were presented at the conference.

 

There is no doubt that the participants at the Nordic Algae Networks final conference left with more then they came with. Some might even have walked down to the harbour in Grenaa, looked at the new windmill farm, but seeing the potential that lies beneath the surface. 

 

The Nordic Algae network is a project under Nordic Innovation’s Marine Innovation Programme.