EU researchers cultivate seaweed for biodegradable bioplastics

By Michelle Yeomans

- Last updated on GMT

EU researchers cultivate seaweed for biodegradable bioplastics

Related tags Agriculture

SEABIOPLAS, an FP7-funded project is cultivating seaweed to develop sustainable biodegradable bioplastics.

As the production of bioplastics is expected to rise, the use of these resources will also increase, which in turn will have effects on biomass prices and environmental degradation. 

Thus, industries like cosmetics are looking for greener alternatives for product packaging and the project's researchers believe that seaweed will most definitely cater to this.

In 2010, world seaweed production, almost exclusively from aquaculture was 19.9 million tonnes. Of this, Europe was only responsible for 0.4%, with the main markets being food, industrial specialities, fertilizers, cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and feed.

Benefits of seaweed in packaging

Controlled cultivation of seaweed allows for high traceability, management of biomass composition and properties, high quality and sustainability. 

According to SEABIOPLAS, sustainability is further increased when the cultivation of seaweed is carried out in Integrated Multi-Trophic Aquaculture (IMTA) systems which work by incorporating the waste products produced by one species into the diet of another species.

Aquaculture produces phosphorus and nitrogen in large quantities that are lost to the surrounding ecosystem.

Over 67-80% of nitrogen and 50% of phosphorus fed to farmed fish goes into the environment, either directly from the fish or from solid wastes. Seaweed is able to utilise this nitrogen and phosphorus and produce new biomass through photosynthesis, thus removing these excess nutrients from the surrounding area.

As well as the benefits of seaweed in IMTA, it also has several advantages over using the raw materials currently used in biomass-based plastics, including a reduction of CO2 emissions, higher productivity, no risk of potential deforestation, no freshwater consumption and no fertilisers or pesticides used.

After the sustainably grown seaweed has been processed to produce lactic acid (the precursor to PLA), seaweed residues will be generated. These by-products have potential market value in many sectors and can also be used as ingredients or supplements/additives.

Related topics Formulation & Science Packaging

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