Genetic diversity exploitation for innovative macro-algal biorefinery

 


Seaweed, or “macro-algae”, has long been recognised as a valuable source of diverse bioactive compounds and has great potential to be used in pharmaceuticals, nutraceuticals and functional foods. However, until now, seaweed has been underexploited in Europe due to the challenges of expanding seaweed biomass production: costs need to be reduced, scales of production need to be increased, quality improved, and seaweed biomass needs to be successfully refined into multiple useful products. If these issues can be addressed, seaweed biomass production could become more economically and environmentally sustainable.

The Horizon 2020 Blue Growth project GENIALG is the first industry-driven project bringing together pioneering companies in large-scale integrated European biorefineries and experts in seaweed cultivation, genetics and metabolomics to boost the seaweed industry.

GENIALG will boost the Blue Biotechnology Economy in Europe by designing high yielding seaweed cultivation systems. GENIALG will increase the production and sustainable exploitation of two high-yielding species of European seaweed biomass: the brown alga Saccharina latissima (also known as Sugar Kelp) and the green algae Ulva rigida (often called Sea Lettuce).

What will GENIALG do?

GENIALG is the first industry-driven project bringing together pioneering companies in large-scale integrated European biorefineries and experts in seaweed cultivation, genetics and metabolomics to boost the seaweed industry.

GENIALG will combine available knowledge in seaweed biotechnology with reliable eco-friendly tools and methods to scale up current small cultivation seaweed operations.

The technical and economic feasibility of producing large and sustainable volumes of high-quality S. latissima and U. rigida seaweed biomass will be demonstrated in several European regions, to capitalise on the commercial potential of nutrient rich seaweed compounds.

Two pilot pre-industrial seaweed biorefinery plants will provide vital seaweed compounds for a wide range of products such as cosmetics, pharmaceuticals, food and feed ingredients, fine and specialty chemicals, additives and blends such as gels, as well as precursors for biodegradable plastics.

GENIALG will closely monitor the environmental conditions and their associated biodiversity at the seaweed farms to measure the impact of the crop species and their provision of additional services to these ecosystems.

The Biorenewables Development Centre is involved in “Seaweed biorefinery prototype design and implementation “, which is led by the Centre for Novel Agricultural Products (University of York). In this work package we are responsible for the scale up of integrated processes giving rise to a range of new and existing product ranges from Saccharina and Ulva biomass. This scale up work will start in June 2019.

Expected impact

By enhancing the supply of high-quality seaweed biomass, it will be possible to deliver a range of diverse seaweed-derived chemical compounds for existing and new applications to meet rising market demand. GENIALG will help lead the way in the Blue Biotechnology sector in Europe, while addressing social acceptability and competition for maritime space.

The economic competitiveness of multiple European industries will be strengthened by supporting new jobs, upskilling, growth and investment in the blue economy, while ensuring environmental sustainability.

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