World’s First Seaweed Farm In An Offshore Wind Farm

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The dream of building the world’s first commercial scale seaweed farm within an offshore wind farm edged a little closer to reality last week, when the Irish firm Simply Blue Group stamped its seal of approval on the North Sea Farm 1 project. The rough-and-tumble environment of an offshore wind array is not the easiest place to establish a new aquaculture venture, but the crowded North Sea provides seaweed farmers with few other options. A group of seaweed industry stakeholders is determined to make it happen, and if all goes according to plan the idea will spread to wind farms all over the North Sea.

Offshore Wind Expert Likes New Seaweed Farm

North Sea Farm 1 is a creation of the trade organization North Sea Farmers. The plan calls for a new seaweed operation to be deployed and seeded in an offshore wind farm, in the North Sea off the coast of the Netherlands.

The initial phase calls for the seaweed to occupy a 10-hectare site, or about 100,000 square meters. Deployment and seeding are expected this fall, with the first harvest to come right after in the spring of 2025. The first-year crop alone is expected to total 6,000 kilograms.

The seal of approval from Simply Blue is important, because it lends additional credibility to a seemingly impossible task (more on that in a second). Simply Blue has already established a reputation for pushing that boundaries of offshore wind, including floating wind technology. The company has also expressed an interest in leveraging wind turbines as anchors for other offshore commercial ventures.

“Simply Blue Group is focused on replacing fossil fuels with clean ocean energy, removing CO2 from the atmosphere, and developing sustainable sources of protein, while attracting investment into coastal communities,” the company explains.

“It has a keen interest in multiple use of wind farms and believes that efficient use of sea space is key to working with the oceans on climate change and bring more local communities and supply chains into the transition to a low carbon economy,” they add.

To date, much of the offshore wind multi-use activity involves piggybacking solar panels, wave energy converters, and green hydrogen systems onto the turbines. Fish farming is also beginning to emerge as a co-location opportunity.

The seaweed angle is another relatively new development, and evidently Simply Blue would like to get out ahead of the competition. Last summer the firm cemented a relationship with the Norwegian aquaculture company Arctic Seaweed, aimed at developing prototype seaweed farms at offshore wind sites. The North Sea project provides Simply Blue with an opportunity to accelerate into commercial scale.

In a press statement, Simply Blue co-founder and CEO Hugh Kelly emphasized the multi-use angle. “We recognise that seaweed cultivation is a valuable tool in tackling climate change and supporting our oceans.  We believe that in time offshore wind farms will have multiple uses, with seaweed production being one of them.”

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How Offshore Wind Can Kickstart The European Seaweed Industry

As for why bother setting up a seaweed farm far offshore, North Sea Farmers anticipates that a local, reliable source of high quality seaweed would help the European seaweed product industry scale up. So far, Europe’s reliance on the overseas supply chain has been an obstacle to growth.

Another new hurdle also arose on the supply side, when The Netherlands decided to prioritize offshore wind in the North Sea over other industries on the heels of the 2015 Paris Accord on climate change. That left little room for the seaweed industry to expand.

In 2020, North Sea Farmers finally hit upon the idea of joining forces with the wind industry. “And with seaweed we saw (and still see) a bright future for scale-up of production in offshore wind farms; safer and co-usage of otherwise unused North Sea space,” they explain.

“That’s why we concluded in 2020 that as seaweed sector organisation we needed to 1) support the scale-up of locally produced seaweed and 2) try to give better visibility to the seaweed sector in the stakeholder discussions on the future usage of the (Dutch) North Sea.”

By 2021 North Sea Farmers had organized a consortium to set the wheels in motion for North Sea Farm 1, consisting of the independent research organizations Deltares and Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the climate adaptation firm Silvestrum Climate Associates, seaweed extract manufacturers Algaia, and maritime contractor Van Oord.

The combination of seaweed farming and offshore wind also caught the attention of the Amazon Right Now Climate Fund, which provided North Sea Farmers with a €1.5 million grant last year help get the project in gear, beginning with the 10-hectare site.

In addition, North Sea Farmers works with DMEC, the Dutch Marine Energy Centre. Though wave and tidal energy are the main focuses of DMEC, the organization is also pursuing activities to co-locate multiple offshore activities with wind farms.

North Sea Farm 1 is also taking advantage of several years’ worth of pilot projects in the North Sea. “Members such as Murre Technologies and Boeg Nautic have built seeding and harvesting machines that can help with safe and efficient offshore production,” North Sea Farmers notes.

The Formula 1 Of Seaweed Farming

The idea of co-locating seaweed farming with offshore wind seems straightforward enough, considering that seaweed farming by nature is an offshore operation. However, as our friends over at the World Wildlife Fund point out, much of the global seaweed supply comes from relatively calm, shallow coastal waters. Wind farms are located farther offshore, where the conditions for seaweed farming are more challenging.

North Sea Farmers cites The Seaweed Company founder Joost Wouter, who has described seaweed farming at an offshore wind site as the “Formula 1 of seaweed production.” Formula 1 racing arguably has nothing to do with seaweed. However, the main point is that the offshore wind site requires a new, high-performance approach to seaweed farming.

“It’s far, it’s deep, it’s dangerous and it’s expensive,” North Sea Farmers explains.

Difficulty aside, the organization is confident that North Sea Farm 1 will kickstart a new industry in Europe. The organization’s Manager of Farming and Technology, Eef Brouwers, anticipates that 85,000 new jobs in seaweed farming, production, and sales could result if other offshore wind farms lend their stake in the North Sea to the seaweed industry.

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Image: New seaweed farm to co-located with offshore wind turbines in the North Sea (courtesy of Smartland Landscape Architecture via Simply Blue Group).

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