Marine macroalgae, also referred to as seaweeds or kelp, are a group of exceptionally diverse aquatic plants. Macroalgae can be found along nearly all coastlines around the globe and in some cases also in the open ocean. They have traditionally been used for food and feed, as well as fertilizer. In 2016, the world produced approximately 26 million wet metric tons of seaweed, primarily through highly labor-intensive farming techniques. While macroalgae production has increased six-fold over the past quarter-century, the current state of macroalgae “mariculture” is not capable of achieving the scale, efficiency and production costs necessary to support a seaweed-to-fuels industry. Dramatically increasing productivity will require significant advancements in the domestication of macroalgae and new farming technologies. To accelerate the development of critical tools and technologies, the MARINER program is supporting projects in five areas: 1) Integrated Cultivation & Harvest System Design, 2) Critical Enabling Components, 3) Computational Modeling, 4) Monitoring Tools, and 5) Breeding & Genomic Tools.
Project Innovation + Advantages:
The University of California, Santa Barbara (UCSB) will lead a MARINER Category 4 project to develop a system-level solution to continuously monitor all stages of seaweed biomass production. To maximize biomass yields and minimize risk, farm managers must be able to monitor farm progress starting at seaweed outplanting and continuing through the growth cycle to harvest. UCSB will develop a Scalable Aquaculture Monitoring System (SAMS) comprised of autonomous and semi-autonomous technologies capable of monitoring biomass productivity and physiological status, as well as the environmental conditions that control its near-term production. UCSB will also develop new software tools to integrate data into real-time, actionable intelligence. SAMS will deliver subsurface biomass imaging and quantification at an individual plant-scale, while maintaining the scalability to monitor multiple giant kelp farms simultaneously. If successful, the integration of canopy and subsurface kelp biomass, productivity, and condition information with environmental data will provide farm managers with a suite of farm data products to monitor farm status from outplant to harvest.
If successful, MARINER projects strive to develop the tools needed to allow the United States to become a world leader in marine biomass production for multiple important applications, including the production of biofuels.
Production of biofuels and bioenergy from domestically produced marine biomass could ensure that the U.S. has at its disposal a scalable, domestic source of low-carbon energy supplies.
Growing large amounts of macroalgae would not compete with land-based food crops, requires no fresh water and can be grown without the addition of energy-intensive, synthetic nitrogen fertilizer. Large-scale macroalgae cultivation may help reduce the negative effects of nutrient overload and ocean acidification in many coastal ocean regions.
A domestic macroalgae industry would not only create a valuable new source of domestic energy, but also create significant new economic and employment opportunities in many waterfront communities along the U.S. coasts from Maine to the Gulf of Mexico, Alaska, and the Pacific Islands.