Eager Markets

February 11, 2022

By Laine Welch


The seaweed processing report follows one from last August, also done by McKinley for AFDF, that highlights the wide range of markets.


The global seaweed industry produces more than 70 billion pounds of wet-weight harvest per year - more than four times the weight of the world’s combined wild and farmed salmon harvests.


Over 97% of the seaweed is produced in Asia, where nearly all of it is farmed. World farmed production has grown at an average annual rate of 7% a year over the last 20 years.  Most seaweed currently produced in the U.S. is wild harvest. About 80% is rockweed from Maine used for fertilizers and nutritional supplements.  


Seaweed gels and thickeners are the largest category sold in international trade by value. These include alginates that already enjoy a well-developed global market with uses as food additives, textile dye thickeners, and dental impression materials, among many others. World alginate sales total more than $345 million annually.


That category is followed by human food products and items such as fertilizers and animal feeds.


Several seaweed species grown in Alaska already have an established role in the cosmetics industry “with current global market values of between $10 and $35 billion and an anticipated annual growth rate of 5% to 7% over the next five years,” the report said.


The rapid growth rates of marine algae and the fact that it does’t require land or fertilizer make it a promising tool for sequestering large amounts of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere. “Once carbon sequestration by seaweed farms is better quantified, it may be possible to sell farmed seaweed projects in the $277 billion carbon credit market. Seaweed’s climate attributes may also increase its value as an ingredient in other products,” the market report added.


In the near-term, the pathway to Alaska’s industry will depend on a mix of public and private investment. “Growth may hinge on investment from one or more innovative industrial manufacturers who can act as ‘anchor’ customers or partners and help scale demand,” the report said.

Infrastructure and logistics will be a significant (and familiar) challenge for an Alaska seaweed industry.

Both reports said that cost structures and distance from markets limit current opportunities, but may be offset by technological innovation, coordination among growers, and other opportunities to share costs and pool resources. They conclude: “The presence of community support and partnerships will likely be key to the success of future seaweed processing in Alaska.”

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