future view

The Seaweed Lab: a symbiosis between knowledge and industry

14 December 2018 • 4 min reading time

A laboratory that connects scientific knowledge with pioneering entrepreneurs keen to innovate with seaweed; an investment in innovation, new industry, employment and sustainability. After extensive laboratory research into the applications of seaweed as a sustainable source of raw materials and fuels, now is the perfect moment for joint development on a larger scale. The perfect combination of thinking and doing.

This was the message from Jack van der Hoek – Sustainability, Government and Culture delegate of the Province of North Holland – at the opening of the ‘ECN part of TNO’ Seaweed Lab in Petten.

“This lab is the largest of its kind in the world. It can produce the raw materials for fuels, sustainable plastics, textiles, sweeteners, antioxidants and minerals. We are bringing parties together and transferring knowledge to businesses so they can innovate with seaweed. In time, seaweed production in the Dutch part of the North Sea could potentially supply 10% of the total energy consumption in this country,” claims Jaap van Hal, ECN part of TNO researcher.

Promoting the seaweed chain

“Yes, this lab is just what we need as entrepreneurs,” agrees Petra Steenhoek of Hortimare, a company that has done pioneering work with seaweed as the base for all sorts of raw materials for over ten years. “We form a good symbiosis with ECN part of TNO, because together we complete the chain. As a business, we have to learn more about the possibilities offered by seaweed. That’s why we need researchers doing lab work and experiments. The results benefit us, and all other businesses working with seaweed. And by breeding and cultivating, we ensure that the lab always has access to base material, in all sorts of varieties, for its research. Science and business complement each other well here. This is the ideal test bed for strongly promoting the seaweed chain in the North Sea.”

“This is the ideal test bed for strongly promoting the seaweed chain in the North Sea”

Hortimare specializes in the breeding and cultivation of seaweed. The company delivers seaweed seeds to seaweed-growing farms. All kinds of products can be made from seaweed – from disposable plates to textiles.

Exchange

ECN part of TNO and Hortimare have also collaborated on a number of European projects around innovations with seaweed, such as MacroCascade and AT~SEA. Thanks to the new laboratory, their collaboration is growing closer still. Petra Steenhoek: “It’s a wonderful exchange. We provide our products, ECN part of TNO provides research and experiments, and all of us – other companies, too – can then build on that. We also keep ECN part of TNO up-to-date on market developments, and what kind of market needs there are. And we’re great sparring partners.”

“Research into seaweed-based biofuels is adding a new link to the Dutch seaweed industry of the future”

A new link in the seaweed industry

The Province of North Holland is helping to fund projects in this field, and support is also being given by the top sectors and the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate (EZK). Nathalie Scheidegger, EZK project manager: “This lab’s research into seaweed-based biofuels is adding a new link to the Dutch seaweed industry of the future. Now is the time to join up with other links in the chain, such as the seaweed-producing industry, to ensure that they also reflect, discuss and participate. Scaling up is vital to the future success of biofuels.”

Accelerated development

ECN part of TNO and the other knowledge institutes for applied research (TO2) that are working with seaweed – namely Wageningen UR, NIOZ, Deltares and MARIN – have already joined forces to set up a national programme. In the Dutch part of the North Sea, many businesses are already actively engaged in marine seaweed farming.

Willie van den Broek, Innovation Manager at Wageningen UR: “In early 2017, EZK set up the ProSeaweed programme to further professionalize and scale up seaweed research and development amongst knowledge institutes and businesses. In seaweed chain research, ECN part of TNO has directed itself chiefly towards sustainable energy while Wageningen UR is looking principally at innovative seaweed applications in food, animal feedstuffs, raw materials and chemicals. So together with knowledge institutes, governments and businesses we have formed a seaweed chain that helps us making more effective use of each other’s expertise. This has accelerated development.”

“Seaweed can serve as a source of food, raw materials and energy. It promotes the circular economy, air quality and sustainable mobility”

A catalyst for growth

Marten de Vries, circular economy project leader at the Province of North Holland: “It started here in late 2015, with a broadly-supported resolution by D66 and the VVD to make better use of the opportunities offered by seaweed. The province went straight to work on it, and we are now funding the ECN part of TNO, WUR and NIOZ project ‘Marine Vegetable Biomass’. Seaweed can serve as a source of food, raw materials and energy. It promotes the circular economy, air quality and sustainable mobility. As a province, we are bringing knowledge and industry closer together. The Seaweed Lab is a catalyst for sustainable economic growth.”

This TNO project supports the following Sustainable Development Goals

Want to know more?

Would you like to talk to ECN part of TNO about seaweed innovations, or visit the Seaweed Lab? Get in touch.

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