Start-up Macrocarbon Developing Macroalgae Aquafarms
Macrocarbon Sargassum natans

The macroalga Sargassum natans belongs to the genus of the so-called gulfweed. Credit: Alfred-Wegener-Institut, Franziska Elmer

The startup Macrocarbon SL began with the idea of using natural ocean resources to develop new climate-friendly raw materials for industry. To this end, researchers from the Alfred Wegener Institut, Carbonwave, GEOMAR, Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, and the start-up Seafields joined forces, with the support of BASF. In January 2022 they founded the project “C-CAUSE” (Chemical CARBON Utilization through Sargassum Economy). A short time later, in May 2022, they won a grant of 700,000 euros as part of the “Carbon to Value Challenge” of the Federal Agency for Disruptive Innovation (SPRIND). In this first funding phase a novel value chain was developed.

Starting with the cultivation of free-floating macroalgae (Sargassum fluitans and natans) in open-ocean aquafarms, biological and renewable carbon feedstocks will be produced for the chemical industry. The goal is to contribute to the decarbonization of the chemical industry while creating products that store carbon over long time periods.

To drive further development activities in a second SPRIND funding phase and technical upscaling in an even more agile way, the company Macrocarbon SL was spun out of AWI and Carbonwave on March 23, 2023, and has received additional funding of 2.3 million euros from SPRIND to further develop its innovations.

Regarding the goals of the AWI and Carbonwave spin-off, founder and Macrocarbon CEO Dr. Mar Fernández Méndez says, “Macrocarbon will develop integrated supply chains for the cultivation and processing of Sargassum seaweed. Because Sargassum itself floats, we do not need expensive longlines to be stretched out in the water for this purpose. In addition, the algae grow quickly and thrives in many regions. It binds CO₂ very efficiently through natural photosynthesis.”

After harvesting the algae, the carbon-rich biomass will be processed into raw materials for the chemical industry (such as bio-naphtha), which will replace products previously derived from fossil fuels. In this way, Macrocarbon intends to contribute to decarbonization, sequestering 100 million tons of CO₂ per year by 2040 and one gigaton by 2050.

AWI, Carbonwave and the Macrocarbon spinoff plan to continue cooperating with each other. To this end, AWI will contribute its biological process understanding to monitor carbon fluxes and environmental sustainability, supporting Macrocarbon in building an innovative value chain. Carbonwave will develop processing methodologies based on their existing operations and production of valuable products from Sargassum in the Caribbean.

Las Palmas, on Gran Canaria, was chosen as the new company’s headquarters, primarily because of its location in the subtropical Atlantic where Sargassum thrives. Also, Macrocarbon has access to an ocean platform with a test environment here (Oceanic Platform of the Canary Islands, PLOCAN). This platform is suitable for large-scale experiments and tests of pilot processing plants.

The location in the Atlantic Ocean is also easy to reach and, at the same time, offers the necessary marine high seas conditions. The Canary Islands belong to the EU, which is relevant for SPRIND funding and possible further EU funding.

In addition to the funding from SPRIND, Carbonwave and Seafields plan to participate in Macrocarbon. It is expected that Jason Cole, currently Head of Innovation at Carbonwave, will join Macrocarbon’s founding team.

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