Phykos Testing Robotic Seaweed Farms

 Seagriculture EU 2024
Robotic Seaweed Farms

“Seaweeds have evolved to grow crazy fast and are fantastic at drawing out CO2,” Nico Julian says. “Essentially what we’re just doing is giving them a bigger surface area, out in the open ocean, to do their same magic.”

A startup named Phykos is on a mission to sequester one gigaton of carbon per year safely in the deep ocean — for generations to come. As reported by Adele Peters in Fast Company, a prototype of a small, solar-powered robotic vessel recently started sailing in the Pacific Ocean, pulling an underwater rack filled with seaweed. Phykos says each platform holding the fast-growing kelp may be able to capture as much CO2 as 250 trees — and though the approach still needs to be proven, the company thinks that it could be a viable way to quickly sequester carbon by sinking the seaweed to the ocean floor.

The tech is modular: with the units that float on the surface, each the size of a small boat, and the lines of kelp underneath roughly the size of a single-family house. After seaweed “starts” from nurseries are planted on the lines, the vessels navigate out to the open ocean. Software on each vessel is designed to steer toward the best areas for growth, moving throughout the year, and automatically avoid areas like shipping lanes. Then it will harvest itself. “The seaweeds will grow and periodically get a haircut, so to speak, with an integrated harvest clipper mechanism,” says Nico Julian, who co-founded Phykos with Jeff Zerger.

Unlike some types of kelp that float — picture the seaweed along California coastlines, which has small, round air-filled pockets to keep it near the surface — the company plans to work with species that naturally sink. A scale built into the platform will weigh the seaweed after each harvest to help calculate how much carbon has been captured.

Seaweed farming near the shore isn’t new, but the startup’s approach is different. “It’s a really challenging robotics problem,” says Marius Wiggert, a PhD researcher at the University of California, Berkeley, who is one of a team of researchers collaborating with the company. The device has to be able to navigate through unpredictable waves and wind and to operate on its own for multiple years. Because it’s becoming harder for seaweed to grow as the ocean warms, it will have to be able to navigate to cooler areas. (The system may be able to help make up some of the gap in sequestration that has occurred as naturally-grown seaweed has been declining.) The vessels can also navigate to particular areas to deposit the seaweed underwater.

The company, which just completed a stint at the tech accelerator Y Combinator, is still developing the technology. But they expect that the cost will be “probably on the lower end of the cost spectrum,” compared to other carbon removal technology, Mr. Julian says.

All rights reserved. Permission required to reprint articles in their entirety. Must include copyright statement and live hyperlinks. Contact Algae Planet accepts unsolicited manuscripts for consideration, and takes no responsibility for the validity of claims made in submitted editorial.

Seagriculture USA 2024



  • May 17, 2024: BettaF!sh, a leading alt seafood and seaweed start-up in Europe, has announced its involvement in the FunSea project, a collaborative EU-wide research initiative designed to advance the nutritional quality and safety of cultivated brown and green seaweed. This research project intends to develop novel, sustainable food products over a three-year period, by employing cutting-edge processing technologies and utilizing residual biomass from biomarine industries. READ MORE...
  • May 15, 2024: The 2024 Algae Biomass Summit, to be held in Houston, Texas, October 20-22, 2024, is now accepting speaker and poster abstracts for the world’s largest algae conference. Abstracts should be submitted by May 24th to receive preferential scoring by the review committee, as well as student registration discounts. READ MORE...
  • May 13, 2024: The Tasmanian Government is investing $4 million in the agricultural sector with the goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from livestock by more than 16,000 tons. “The TasFarmers proposal will use Sea Forest’s Asparagopsis SeaFeed as a feed additive to some 24,000 head of livestock in this large-scale trial to demonstrate commercial-scale viability of Asparagopsis feed supplements,” said Minister for Parks and Environment, Nick Duigan. READ MORE...
  • May 10, 2024: Dallas-based public charity the Cares Organization has received a substantial donation from the National Christian Foundation and ZimWorx to kickstart their newest sponsored project, the Eat To Grow Development and Upliftment Program, which aims to address food insecurity and poverty in Zimbabwe by establishing a microalgae spirulina farm which will feed 500 people per day in a sustainable way. READ MORE...

Algae Europe 2024

A Beginner’s Guide