Does the Sargassum Heading Toward Florida Have a Silver Lining?

Sargassum Belt

Researchers say farm and sewage runoff is likely driving the now 5,000-mile-wide “Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt.” Climate change may also be playing a role.

Harri Weber@harriblogs writes for TechCrunch that the 5000-mile-wide pile of sargassum heading for Florida, while potentially devastating for tourism, may have some practical benefits for those looking to make use of the brown macroalgae.

Researchers and entrepreneurs are experimenting with turning it into syrup, bricks, and even jet fuel. Carbonwave, a Boston-and-Puerto Rico-based startup is using it in fertilizer, cosmetics, and faux leather.

Backed by ESG-themed investment firms Natixis and Viridios Capital, as well as ocean-focused VC Katapult, Carbonwave says the new cash infusion of $5 million will help it scale production of its seaweed-based emulsifier for cosmetics. The startup said in a statement that it “has already sold half a ton” of its emulsifier, which it created as an alternative to petroleum-based ingredients. The company also claimed that its sargassum fertilizer “reduces the need for” climate change-driving nitrogen fertilizer.

CEO Geoff Chapin said Carbonwave makes these products through a “proprietary extraction process,” which involves pressing the seaweed and removing the arsenic. The process yields a liquid fertilizer, while the leftover pulp forms the basis for the emulsifier and fake leather. The way Mr. Chapin tells it, the company uses “almost every part of the seaweed to make these products.”

Carbonwave is part of a surge of startups vying to turn algae into environmentally friendlier products. For starters, there’s H&M-backed Algiknit (now Keel Labs), which creates textiles; a slew of bioplastics companies, including Loliware and ULUU; and a firm called Umaro, which makes sea-bacon. Seaweed startups often focus on commercializing kelp in one way or another, but a few (like Carbonwave and Seaweed Generation) focus on sargassum.

“We need to put it to good use before it creates more ecological and climate harm,” Carbonwave told TechCrunch. The startup added that it may increase its $5 million Series A with additional funding later. It has secured at least $12 million to date

In the News…
Algaia Acquired by the JRS Group


The JRS Group, a leading manufacturer of functional ingredients from plant-based raw materials, has announced the acquisition of Algaia SA, a producer of sustainably produced seaweed extracts and hydrocolloids.

Following the 2018 acquisition of DuPont’s former alginates business, with a production site in Landerneau, Brittany, the acquisition of Algaia’s nearby site in Lannilis creates one of the largest fresh seaweed fields in Europe.

“The acquisition of Algaia enables far-reaching synergies with our existing alginate business and underlines our commitment to provide outstanding innovative seaweed-based solutions to our global customers,” said Josef Otto Rettenmaier, president of the JRS Group. “JRS is fully committed to ensuring business continuity, to develop both production sites and to support the local sustainable harvest and utilization of fresh seaweed sources in Brittany.”

“Algaia is looking forward to bringing its long-term innovation and business expertise in hydrocolloids and agri-ingredients as well as its proprietary biorefinery know-how to JRS,” added Frédéric Faure, Algaia’s CEO. “We are confident that the newly formed organization will enable us to answer the fast-growing demand for seaweed-based products and ensure a sustainable growth for both sites.”


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