Meet Valentin (and the World Bank Seaweed Global Demand Paper)
Meet Valentin Pitiot – Market Development Manager at Kelp Blue (and the World Bank Seaweed Global Demand research paper)
Today we spoke with Valentin, one of our amazing team mates at Kelp Blue, to find out what drove him to a career in seaweed and to learn about the World Bank study he completed on the global potential of the seaweed industry.
Here’s what we found out…
One of the first things you tell people when you meet them is that you are a ‘seaweed enthusiast’. It’s not every day you meet someone who says that. Tell me what triggered your interest in seaweed in the first place?
Since I was young, I was interested in sustainability and about protecting marine life from climate change. As part of my studies at ITSOM (College of International Agro-Development), I had to complete a series of internships and one of these was in Norway where I researched salmon farming. It was there I first started to learn about the benefits of seaweed. My next internship was in Thailand where I helped establish a cooperative to help local seaweed farmers come together to improve their trade and quality of life. This is where I really fell in love with the potential of seaweed and was determined to make it my career.
Many of us don’t think too much about seaweed. Can you share some of the benefits we might not be aware of?
Seaweed is an amazing resource and there are SO many benefits. The three things that I feel are most important to know about seaweed is how it:
- Improves the environment – by reducing global warming through CO2 sequestration, creating shelter for hundreds of animals building marine biodiversity, and has many other environmental benefits like filtering oceans from chemicals and reducing ocean acidification
- Creates jobs – by helping provide people in coastal communities with new skills and long term, sustainable employment opportunities
- Generates sustainable revenues – we are still discovering ways to use seaweed and there is enormous potential for companies to create seaweed businesses which are both profitable and good for earth
You recently completed a study for the World Bank – tell me what you learned?
The goal of the study was aimed at helping the World Bank identify investment opportunities for people and projects in tropical and developing countries. While I always knew the potential for seaweed was huge, the study really helped me quantify the size and opportunities available. The
estimated market value in 2019 was US$5.9B with a CAGR of 9.1%. The industry is so young and there is an almost unlimited number of applications across so many industries! Seaweed can be used in pharmaceuticals, neutraceuticals, cosmetics, food, bio-stimulants, agri-feed, biofuel, bio-packaging. There are even some benefits which are not fully understood, for example fucoidan which could provide treatment for diseases such as cancer. Basically, we are pioneers in a new market with such huge benefits for the world to discover.
Are the opportunities for seaweed different across the world?
Yes, there are differences by region. In China, seaweed is a very well established with 99% harvested for food consumption. They have been working with seaweed for decades, building knowledge, facilities, processing capabilities. Europe is developing fast and focusing on new processing methods, and concentrating on industries like neutraceuticals, bio-stimulants, alginates and looking at how the molecules of seaweed can provide pharmaceutical benefits for humans. The USA is following similar trends to Europe, as well as social trends such as developing biofuel, bio-packaging and new plant-based food products.
It’s also important to understand that seaweeds come in many different shapes, sizes, composition, and colours which thrive in different habitats. There are 3 main groups, red, green and brown, which are made up of different combinations of compounds. As different species grow in different climates, this also means production and usage will vary by region.
For example, Macrocystis pyrifera, also called Giant Kelp, which Kelp Blue is farming in Namibia, is a brown-algae and is the largest kelp variety. It thrives in cool, coastal waters and is the fastest growing organism. This will be processed for uses such as bio-stimulants, agri-feed and cellulose fibre which might be different to the smaller red kelp variety which grows in warmer waters.
Are there any trends which are influencing the production of seaweed?
Yes, there are a lot of trends which are creating interest and driving demand for seaweed. Things such as veganism, circular economy, looking for natural substitutes for products and packaging. Also, larger companies are trying to reduce their CO2 emissions by buying carbon offsets. All these trends help grow the industry for seaweed globally.
Is it possible to farm seaweed at scale in an ecological way?
Seaweed production today is mostly sourced from family farms in tropical coastal waters. As oceans cover 71% of the planet, and seaweed grows at such a fast rate absorbing CO2 forever, the more ocean seaweed we grow, the more we can fight global warming. A scaled-up seaweed operation could have major positive economic benefits for the environment and local communities. I believe there is no limit to farming seaweed in the oceans, as long as we do it in a thoughtful and sustainable way.
What do you believe are the major blockers to widespread commercialisation of the kelp industry?
Firstly legislation. Seaweed is a relatively new industry outside of Asia, and the legislation is still catching up. It is important to ensure it is farmed appropriately and with careful monitoring of the surrounding ecosystem. Regulations will help develop the market and create controls to ensure it is farmed in nutrient rich locations with the least impact on the environment. In July 2022 a new legislation for bio-stimulants will be introduced which will further put seaweed in the spotlight.
The second thing is improving production and processing capabilities. A big limitation today is how to produce seaweed at scale. There are not many companies investing in large scale giant kelp farming and still a lot of research and development needed to find the best way to grow and harvest seaweed in a sustainable way, to meet the growing global demand.
Do you think seaweed can change the world?
Read the World Bank study here.
I really think seaweed will have a huge, positive impact on our planet. It will help create jobs (like Kelp Blue’s farm in Namibia), it will reduce global warming and by changing human habits with seaweed. Like using seaweed as a fertiliser or bio-stimulant on farms to improve soil quality and grow healthier crops, it will even help in drought affected countries. The use of alginates can help provide food security and using seaweed biofuel as an alternative to fossil fuels. In the coming years, I believe we will see companies innovate with seaweed and discover alternative uses that are great for the planet.
Read about some other innovations in seaweed here: https://www.weforum.org/agenda/2021/05/startups-seaweed-farming-ocean-planet-climate/