UAF awarded $500,000 grant for seaweed study

[USA] The University of Alaska Fairbanks has been awarded a federal grant of $500,000 to study seaweed farming in Alaska. 

The project has been in the works at UAF for some time, and the funding will help push research to the next level, S. Bradley Moran, dean of the College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences, said.

“This project will bolster Alaska’s ocean economy in important ways as we work collectively to implement a more sustainable and diversified use of Alaska’s maritime resources,” Moran said.

University officials said the project aims to integrate the seaweed farming process, including seed production, planting, growing, harvesting and re-seeding, using methods from the commercial fishing industry.

Mike Stekoll, a biochemist with the UAF College of Fisheries and Ocean Sciences and the University of Alaska Southeast, is lead investigator on the project.

“What the Department of Energy wanted was a proposal to come up with news ways to mass-culture seaweeds off shore for a potential biofuel product,” he said.

“It’s a consortium of people who will be working on this project, including the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, Blue Evolution, a private company that cultivates and markets seaweed products, and other seaweed farmers,” Stekoll said. “It’s exciting to have this new infusion of funding to broaden the scope of the research I’ve been doing.”

Stekoll has been working on a $418,000 project funded by the National Sea Grant College Program to develop cost-effective cultivation methods to assist Alaska producers in growing and harvesting commercial quantities of sugar kelp. The two projects connect nicely, he said.

“They both have to do with aquaculture of sugar kelp, but the Sea Grant project is for helping Alaska commercial farmers,” he said.

With funding recently allocated, the project is set to begin in January and continue for a year, Stekoll said. If everything goes well, the project could be renewed for as many as four years, he added.

Julie Decker, executive director of the Alaska Fisheries Development Foundation, said the project could be great for the state.

“Because seaweed is planted in the fall, grown throughout the winter and harvested in the spring, it could be an excellent source of additional revenue for fishermen and processors,” she said.

Funding was allocated through the Advanced Research Projects Agency-Energy. The Department of Energy appropriated $22 million to 18 projects — including the seaweed study — under the umbrella of the Macroalgae Research Inspiring Novel Energy Resources program.

“From Alaska to the Gulf Coast, the United States has offshore resources capable of producing enough seaweed to handle as much as 10 percent of our demand for transportation fuel,” Eric Rohlfing, acting director of ARPA-E, said. “By focusing on the technological challenges to growing and harvesting macroalgae efficiently and cost-effectively, MARINER project teams are building the tools we need to fully put this resource to work contributing to our energy future.”

Alaska Republican Sen. Lisa Murkowski, a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee and the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, recognized UAF for receiving the grant.

“Alaska is a leader in energy innovation, and I’m proud that we continue to be recognized for our efforts to develop the next generation of cost-effective technologies,” she said. “Exploring the possibilities surrounding the economic benefits of kelp production, from food to energy, is exciting for our state. This grant underscores both the opportunities we have in Alaska and the importance of programs like ARPA-E, which provide tools that enable transformative energy technologies to succeed.”


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