The seaweed which is a game-changer

The way to reduce agricultural greenhouse gas emissions: the seaweed which is a game-changer.

Without destroying forests or harming the climate: Dr. Yossi Tal, the Vice CTO Technology with Seakura, has managed to grow seaweed on desert-like beaches and in rocky ground. As he puts it “In order to raise this super food in mass quantities, all that is needed is sun, inexpensive pools and Seakura’s sustainable technology and know how”

In Israel we know it as the leaf sushi is wrapped in. For Dr. Yossi Tal, vice -CEO Technology for Seakura, however, seaweed is much more than that. As far as he is concerned, it’s a super food which can be incorporated as a raw ingredient in products including pasta and bread, be marketed as a healthy snack, or even serve as a friendly, sustainable replacement for more traditional agricultural crops whose growing demand globally is leading to environmental destruction in the form of deforestation and climate damage.
“When growing seaweed, there is no need for the land required for agriculture today”, explains Tal in an interview with “Calcalist”. “Seaweed can be grown in massive quantities along the desert shoreline or in rocky ground, in areas in which there is no competition for resources. All you need to do is set up relatively light, inexpensive pools, using our technology, and you can grow healthy, nourishing food in massive quantities. That’s the vision.”
The agricultural sector is responsible for 24% of greenhouse gas emissions, whether directly as a result of the crops themselves, or as a result of deforestation for agricultural purposes. This is the reason that the struggle against climate change requires us to drastically alter our eating habits, in other words, a lot less animal proteins, and to find alternatives to crops which take up large swathes of land and lead to deforestation.
Dr. Tal’s seaweed can be used as an alternative to soy, wheat, corn and other crops which require precious natural resources. Unlike traditional crops, it does not require fresh water, but rather seawater which is available in abundance, and there is no need to create new agricultural land for it. Seaweed requires much less growth space and can be grown along desert shorelines where there is currently no possibility to grow food.

The Base of the Food Chain 

“Seakura raises seaweed on land using unique technology”, as Tal explains. “Our technology is based on pumping seawater, cleaning it and raising seaweed. We take the seawater, clean and filter it, and grow the seaweed in it. Growing marine vegetation on land means being able to control all the variables and creating optimal conditions. Seaweed requires clean water, because it absorbs a great amount of heavy metals. Any marine growth which is not controlled leads to the seaweed becoming full of all sorts of materials which we don’t want. This is a global problem in the area of seaweed for consumption. All of the sushi seaweed suffers the same issue. We are solving it by controlling both water and the growth process.”

Why Seaweed?

“Seaweed is located at the base of the global food chain. It is seaweed which produces the oxygenated atmosphere on earth, and it is the first biological mass which was created. Our seaweed reaches a level of 30% protein, and that’s without even mentioning the minerals and vitamins in it. It’s considered a superfood.
“We need to look ahead to problems the world will be dealing with in coming years. One of them is a lack of fresh water. Insofar as land for growing crops, there are incredible savings all over the world. When you look at regular land-based crops, soy, corn and rice, they all use fresh water and compete for resources which are running out. In the case of our seaweed, I use seawater which is abundantly available and there is no competition for other water sources. I’m also not polluting the environment, because seaweed grows without any need for pesticides. In effect, you could consider them a sort of solar panel. They receive sun, take the nutritional materials they need for growth out of the seawater, and grow at an incredible rate of 20% per day; they are able to double their biomass every three or four days!
“The seawater can be pumped from all sorts of places in the world, not necessarily tropical areas. There are seaweeds which grow in cold water and those which grow in warm water. It’s possible to take seaweed which is endemic to the area and simply introduce it to our technology. Our facility can be set up anywhere where there is access to seawater, close to beaches, or even desert shores where there are no crops. We are also extremely efficient with our growing area. If you can grow one or two tons of soy on a single dunam, with seaweed we’re talking about 20 or 30 tons per dunam. Our efficiency in making the most of the area is extremely high, and we don’t use the land itself, we simply place the structures on it. Our vision is to construct another facility on the basis of the technology we have developed, in other places around the world, and in that way provide seaweed as a central raw material within the food industry. Our technology can also be adapted to other varieties of seaweed in other places, and we are already establishing partnerships.”

Can seaweed replace other crops or animal products?

“Seaweed is known as a central component of the Asian diet. The issue, however, is to introduce them as an ingredient, a raw material, in a variety of products such as bread, as a protein source. We are able to combine them in a way that people won’t notice the seaweed. One could mention breads and pastas made of seaweed flour.
“This is a vegetable protein, which could replace crops such as wheat, barley and corn in a way that won’t damage the environment, not to mention the opening for a broad range of products. Further, apart from the protein, which exists in high concentrations in seaweed, they contain minerals and other nutrients which are absent in land-based crops, such as high levels of magnesium, calcium, iron, potassium and iodine. Most of the population around the world suffers from an incredible insufficiency of iodine, which is an essential component in fetal development and in general”.
Tal points out that growing seaweed may also contribute to slowing global warming: “It consumes carbon dioxide, lowering its concentration in the atmosphere and turn it into carbons which are then available to us. Some studies show that by adding seaweed to cattle food, even at low concentrations, we lower the production of methane in the cows’ stomachs. Methane is one of the most damaging greenhouse gases.”

Seaweed in bread and pasta
Have you already sold your product?

“Yes, we are already selling our seaweeds to Europe, Italy and England. The Europeans love it. Italians take the seaweed and immediately add it to many of their products- all sorts of frittatas, breads and pastas. Some of it gets ground up and added as a powder and some products are left as are, in leaf form. There is a demand for seaweed in leaf form because of its culinary value.
“We are opening new market now, in the United States and in the East. We are the only ones in the world who sell seaweed as is, frozen fresh. We take it out of the pools and without any human contact or processing, we freeze and send it out. Everything arrives dry, after processing and sterilization. I believe that they are used as raw materials in giant food industries, from pasta to bread and even baby food”.
In Tal’s words, Seakura is currently producing close to 100 tons of seaweed annually, and the goal is to reach 200 tons. However, the focus of the company’s activity is expected to shift to the technology itself. “There is no sense in making deliveries by boat or by plane. What makes sense is establishing facilities in places where they’re needed, he explains. “The idea is to market the technology through partnerships or franchises. We hope to open the first facility in South America in the coming year. It’s a great spot because there is sun and people need the food. The minute the technology works, it’s not rocket science. It’s basic technology, but very precise”.