Seaweed research produces results
Joint media release
14 December 2020
Research on seaweed species found in abundance around New Zealand has led to the development and licencing of a promising new product.
The three-year research programme led by Scion set out to test the properties of different seaweeds, including Undaria pinnatifida and the commercially harvested, native species Ecklonia radiata. Two years into the project, researchers have already commercially licenced their first product – a nanocellulose hydrogel – to project partner AgriSea, a leader in the New Zealand Seaweed industry.
Hydrogels are used in burn wound dressings, biomedical engineering applications, drug delivery, cosmetics, and in agriculture supporting plant health to name a few examples. The gels can absorb vast amounts of water (up to 1000 times their own weight) to form a jelly-like substance.
Project partner AgriSea sees promise in the seaweed nanocellulose hydrogels and will continue developing them for their growing range of seaweed-based products. Both partners are hugely excited to see this project move to commercialisation so soon.
“Working with the team at Scion has been a fantastic journey. What started as a far-flung idea has quickly become a commercial reality. The new products are being created from what was essentially a low value waste stream for AgriSea. This sort of work ties in with our vision to create a high-value, long-term sustainable seaweed industry for New Zealand,” says Clare Bradley, Head of Research and Development at AgriSea.
Seaweed-based hydrogels offer not only a potential new revenue stream for New Zealand aquaculture but also access to new high-value onshore and export markets.
Scion programme leader Dr Stefan Hill says, “Seaweeds are unique. Their natural properties are quite different from plants that grow on land. We’re excited to see what else we can make from these seaweeds.”
Scion researchers were able to mechanically process the seaweed and extract the nanocellulose, which was then used to make the hydrogel.
Seaweed-based hydrogels have been made before, but never from species that are growing around New Zealand in sustainably harvestable quantities. The methods used to make the new nanocellulose hydrogels are also significantly cheaper than those currently in use.
AgriSea manufactures seaweed products for the primary sectors including soil, plant, animal and bee nutrition. AgriSea products are widely used in the agriculture, viticulture, horticulture, and apiculture markets in NZ and to a growing export clientele. With a clear, long term R&D strategy in place, encompassing the whole supply chain, novel macro algae species and human nutrition, AgriSea is committed to providing innovative, proven and effective seaweed products that add value to people and planet. www.agrisea.co.nz