In the Netherlands, seaweed production is still an infant industry. According to Noordzeeboerderij Foundation, it is about time for the industry to achieve adulthood. Located fifteen kilometers from The Hague’s coastline, the harvests of its pilot project have been extraordinary, and ask for more.
Will it work? And if so, will the seaweed be able to grow well in the rough North Sea? Koen Van Swam, driving force behind Noordzeeboerderij, got definitive answers to these questions last April. Slimy reeds, measuring a meter and a half, were fished out of the water during the harvest. That the mere millimeters of planted seaweed were able to grow into such lengthy strands just fifteen kilometers from the coasts shows promise for the strategy that has been deployed.
Seaweed production: a world to win
Koen says, “As a foundation, we aim to encourage seaweed production. Our focus is on developing knowledge and technology, but we also want there to be a clear link with the market. One example of this is a cookbook with seaweed recipes we have made for consumers.”
The work of the enterprising foundation must lead to popularity of and familiarity with seaweed, which is currently largely underrated in the Netherlands. Because, while in Asia, seaweed has been used for many applications for centuries, there is still a world to win here.
Upgrading raw materials
According to Noordzeeboerderij, the possibilities of seaweed production are not only diverse but also environmentally friendly. It can be used for food, as sushi eaters already well know, but also as a raw material for animal feed, clothing, and other consumables.
“It’s a valuable proposition because we will be able to upgrade raw materials to food or bioplastic. Additionally, a seaweed plantation can be a great ecosystem for lobsters and small fish, and seaweed is rich in good sugars and fat,” Koen explains, whose enthusiasm seems to be contagious.
“People want to see that money can be earned with it” – Koen Van Swam, co-founder at Noordzeeboerderij Foundation
Meanwhile, a broad coalition comprising of business, science and government is currently involved and is represented by a total of fifty organizations in the so-called ‘Seaweed Platform’.
Koen shares, “Our funding comes from companies in the platform. For instance, we have received funding from the The Hague Innovators Challenge, as well as the Rabobank Innovation Fund. The municipality of The Hague also supports us.”
“Because the municipality has defined the conditions for the ongoing development towards an innovative port, and that it has Noordzeeboerderij in its ranks, really helps to get institutes and entrepreneurs on board,” he adds.
A seaweed economy
The foundation for a ‘seaweed economy’ with a base in The Hague and a good harvest appears to have been laid. That doesn’t mean that Koen can just sit back and relax. There is still enough work to grow towards a mature market and large-scale seaweed production. Koen: “Just as was the case with the pilot, we want this to take place in wind farms in the future. Boats already sail there and an infrastructure already exists”.
Although, according to Koen, this perspective appeals to many, it is for the most part a matter of coming up with a business model that actually pays off. “People want to see that money can be earned with it,” he says.
A new industry in the making
How exactly this will work and who will actually elevate the seaweed production business to a higher level remains to be seen in the coming years. In contrast to the Oosterschelde and Texel, where many seaweed farmers are already active, the seaweed in the North Sea is still looking for a farmer, an entrepreneur who operates it at his own risk, and thereby triggers a whole chain of business activity.
Koen: “A new sector is arising with specialized companies. The cultivation must be processed for which, for instance, new machines will be required. How that will take shape and who is going to do what will become evident in the coming years. As a non-profit, it is not our ambition to do this ourselves. We are here to set the process in motion.”
A version of this article appears in the publication “Welcome to ImpactCity The Hague” that was just launched at Impact Startup Fest last September. Interested to read more about Noordzeeboerderij Foundation? Have a look here and on their website.