[Australia, China] A Chinese company hoping to farm seaweed in South Australia is spending tens of millions of dollars on research, infrastructure and new technologies.
Gather Great Ocean Group (GGOG) hopes to extract marine sugars from native Australian seaweed species, for use in high value products like cakes, jelly and pharmaceuticals.
The company is already harvesting wild seaweed from beaches in the south east of SA and will build a processing plant near Millicent in the next 12 months.
Initially the seaweed will be processed for use in fertilisers for commercial sale, but GGOG’s long-term interest lies in marine sugar extraction.
The company has commissioned Flinders University to research native Australian species and develop safe technologies that are likely to get approval from the government.
The university’s Professor Wei Zhang pitched the idea of starting an aquaculture industry to GGOG in 2012.
“South Australia is the richest place of the seaweed,” Professor Zhang said.
“Almost 15 per cent of the world’s recorded brown and red seaweed species [are] in our beach.
“Worldwide it is a huge industry on the seaweed processing; [it is worth] somewhere over $8 billion annually.”
The technology used to extract marine sugars from seaweed has long been used in Asian countries, but Professor Zhang said much more needed to be done, before Australia would allow the practice.
“We have more strict environmental regulation,” he said.
“So what we’re trying to do is try to develop even better and environmentally friendly technology.”
Japan, Korea, China and Indonesia farm seaweed and Professor Zhang said there was huge potential on home soil.
“People’s current concern is that it may be very expensive in Australia,” he said.
“But if you look at the comparison studies in Japan and Korea; if they can make an industry, I think we can make here.”
Marine sugars are widely used as a thickening or gelling agent and emulsifier in food and pharmaceutical industries.
SA fisheries group executive director Professor Mehdi Doroudi, said authorities welcomed investment in the state’s seaweed industry, but the development of an aquaculture industry would require far more work.
At the moment companies can only harvest wild seaweed that has washed up on a beach, it is illegal to harvest from the ocean.
“When it comes to harvesting from the ocean there are a number of issues that need to be considered, from a biodiversity conservation point of view,” he said.
“We do need to makes sure that we clearly understand what impact could be there.”
The South Australian Research Institute (SARDI) is farming four species of native seaweed at trial sites near Port Lincoln.
“In many parts of the world they are doing that, it’s a very common aquaculture farming practice,” Professor Doroudi said.
“We need to evaluate that the suitability of our waters, the productivity of our waters for that.”
Progress is dependent on investment but Professor Doroudi said there were many companies, like GGOG, interested in starting an Australian seaweed aquaculture industry.
“Some of the companies are really interested in volume,” he said.
“To us, when we looked into it, the volume would come from aquaculture.
“We would be optimistic that in the future work in the seaweed area can happen in SA.”
Photo: South Australia has almost 15 per cent of the world’s recorded brown and red seaweed species, according to Bioprocessing Professor Wei Zhang. (Thomas Wernberg)
View original article at: Chinese company invests in Aus seaweed, hopes to start farming