Åsbjørn Karlsen, CEO, founder and currently the only permanent employee of the Gildeskål-based company, Eukaryo.

Program plants seeds of bigger seaweed crops

Eukaryo is to begin breeding programs with seaweed in an effort to expand cultivation of the product in Norway.

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The relatively newly established company is also working on developing automated machinery for the direct transfer of seaweed seedlings to growing sites, and a complete cultivation system, but details on this are still confidential.

Åsbjørn Karlsen, CEO, founder and currently the only permanent employee of the Gildeskål-based company, Eukaryo, is transferring his accumulated knowledge from agriculture and to aquaculture.

“Our goal is to drive development and innovation in bio-organisms,” explains Karlsen.

The company’s main focus is on seaweed, with Karlsen intending to initiate greater activity in the development of seaweed as an industry. The newly created company eukaryotic ABC (Algae Breeding Cultures) will engage in selective breeding of seaweed in conjunction with research institute Nofima.

“In the initial phase, we have chosen to focus on growth, for we believe there is tremendous potential here,” said Karlsen.

Increased seaweed growth also means increased nutrient uptake, increasing the uptake of dissolved nutrients, potentially from both salmon aquaculture and from agriculture-runoff.

“It may have significant environmental benefits. Higher yields also provide significant savings in construction costs while the value of the crop increases,” explains Karlsen.

Going forward, he envisages the possibility of selecting plants that are favourable for use in specific products, including fish feed.

“In the longer term, we believe that an industrial production of seaweed will save billions of kroners (NOK), especially considering the government’s vision of an increase in the aquaculture sector.

“We need new sources of protein for both agriculture and aquaculture,” emphasises Karlsen.

The company has a licence for the production of sugar, finger kelp, dabberlocks - also known as winged kelp – Palmaria palmata (AKA Dulse) and pyropia used in sushi.

The company is currently developing machinery which should streamline stocking of seaweed, allowing a direct, automated transfer of seedlings (sporophyte) to seawater.

“The development is based on the results and experiences from cultivation and specifically targeting biological requirements,” says Karlsen.

Instead of the widely used manual method, in which seaweed is wrapped around thick rope to grow, the machinery will automate the entire process in a gentle and quick way, he argues.

“The machinery is expected to be completed in autumn 2017, and will provide increased control and quality assurance as well as reduce infrastructure and production costs in the industrial cultivation of seaweed,” he adds.

Also on the drawing board is a complete cultivation system that Karlsen believes can automate much of the process and facilitate the industrial production of seaweed. But the details are still confidential.

To facilitate cultivation on a large scale, Karlsen says a system that can effectively receive and process for market demand is also required.

“Eukaryo has therefore instigated the CapMafi project, where we investigate and develop solutions

to stabilisation, storage and transportation and processing of harvested seaweed along with Nordic Innovation, Innovation Norway and the private sector.

“Soon we will be able to finish a sustainable concept for the processing of seaweed for various purposes,” says Karlsen.

He hopes that more people will see opportunities for seaweed production in the future and wants investors who think long term.

“The supply of stable capital is the biggest problem. We need forward-looking investors who thinks long term. For there is much to be gained eventually,” he concludes.