🇬🇱 Royal Greenland receives funding for seaweed project in Greenland

By Arctic Business Journal - February 21, 2023
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Press release from Royal Greenland

Royal Greenland has over a series of years invested in seaweed farming in Greenland. The project has now been awarded 5,5 million DKK to support the further development, where the aim is to scale up the production with a new setup and expand significantly over the coming years.

Royal Greenland began cultivating seaweed back in 2018 in Maniitsoq on an experimental scale to explore, if the project would be feasible in Greenlandic waters and if it was scalable to the point, where it could be commercialized.

This summer, a new production setup has been implemented in the inshore waters off the coast of Maniitsoq. But going from idea to commercialized product is a long journey with twist and turns on the way.

“Greenland presents a unique opportunity to grow seaweed of very high quality, which we are tapping into with this project. Over the next few years, we are aiming towards a good harvest of approx. 38 tonnes, that we can process and sell.” – Lars Nielsen, COO in Royal Greenland.

The Maniitsoq unit is however just the beginning in an ambitious setup, planned to expand exponentially during the coming years.

“We see a great potential for seaweed in Greenland. In the future, we hope to have a production capable of delivering much larger quantities.”, Lars Nielsen continues.


Why Greenland is a great place for seaweed

Seaweed thrives in cold water temperature, which also is a great way of keeping competing species at bay and there is ample space for growing seaweed along the vast coastlines of Greenland. With a difference of 4 meters in the tidewater height, the tidewater zone is very exposed, providing great exchange of the nutrients in the water which results in large plants.


To support the development of the project, Royal Greenland has recently applied for and have now been granted 5,5 million DKK in funds from the GUDP (Green Development and Demonstration Programme) under the Danish Ministry for Agriculture and Food. The aim of the collaboration with GUDP will be to support the further development of the project with special emphasis on 3 key areas;

  • Developing simple and climate friendly processes for processing the fresh seaweed to a product with good shelf life and functionality for further processing
  • Development of a high-value, flavourful, healthy, and safe product ready for consumption
  • Investigate and document the effects on the climate made by the new processing methods as well as the effect seaweed has on nutritional values for a more climate friendly diet with less consumption of meat and a higher consumption of fish and plant-based meat supplements.

Royal Greenland will partner up with The Technical University of Denmark, The University of Copenhagen and Nordisk Tang to address the topics mentioned above over a period of 3 years, beginning in April 2023.

Seaweed: the journey from idea to commercialized product

Royal Greenland’s journey for seaweed began in 2018 when Nikoline Ziemer, biologist at Royal Greenland, started growing seaweed inside a shed in barrels filled with seawater to test if she could make the seaweed hatch and grow on rope. In her research, she decided to work with two types of seaweed: winged kelp and sugar kelp. Both species had been tried elsewhere and with the basic research already completed on both species, they provided an easy approach to start the project.

Nikoline Ziemer is based at our head office in Nuuk, where she works with theoretic and scientific aspects concerning the development of new species such as seaweed.

Once the process of hatching both species inside proved a success, she continued the experiment in the ocean, laying out 100 meters of rope with seaweed material settled on it and later scaling up to 500 meters of rope in 2019.

Challenges with weather and hatchery

The process of making the seaweed hatch has given Nikoline some grievance during the startup, where some ropes stood empty despite every effort to make the seaweed settle. The weather in Greenland has also provided some challenges. The harvest failed in the summer of 2022, where a late winter caused a lot of ice in the ocean, preventing the seaweed from exposure to sunlight. The seaweed has also shown a sensitivity towards currents in the water, which makes choosing the right location a key parameter in having a successful harvest.


How to grow seaweed 101:

Seaweed is grown during a period of 8-9 months beginning with hatchery in the autumn and harvest during summer. The process of making new seaweed grow on rope begins with ripe/darker seaweed, ready to use for reproduction. All impurities and contaminations are removed from the algae, and it is left to dry for 24 hours, making the material think it is dying. Once dried, the seaweed is submerged into seawater again, where it releases its DNA material as a method of survival. The released biomass seeks towards material (in this case rope), where it can settle to grow. During a period of 5 weeks, the seaweed is in turn subjected to UV light and darkness while it matures. After 5 weeks, the rope is ready to be placed in the ocean, where it will grow for the remaining time until harvest.

Image: seaweed on rope ready for harvest in Maniitsoq


A new production setup

The 500 meters of rope proved tricky to handle in open waters, despite ample space below the surface in Greenland, so Nikoline Ziemer sought out an experienced partner and teamed up with Arctic Seaweed, a Norwegian company with great experience in scaling up seaweed productions. Arctic Seaweed has developed a holistic system, that facilitates the entire process from hatchery to full-grown seaweed in 10 months directly in the sea. The system uses a method called direct seeding, where the rope is seeded by a machine and goes directly in the sea, skipping the 5-week process of hatching and settling inside.

The system is designed to hold ropes placed closely together on 5-meter-wide panels, stretched between metal holders to optimize the amount of space, the unit takes up in the sea. The new seaweed plant can hold 16 km rope, a large number on a rather limited area, measuring only 150 x 50 meters.

The seaweed can be harvested when it is between 1 and 2 meters long by pulling in the lines one row at a time and harvesting the seaweed ashore with a custom developed machine. One unit produces approx. 2,4 kg seaweed per meter, providing a total of just over 38 tonnes.  

Newly hatched seaweed in the ocean off the coast of Maniitsoq

“It’s great news that we are now able to grow seaweed for commercial use. It’s another good opportunity to develop local production and create better economy for both Royal Greenland and Greenland,” Nicoline Ziemer explains.

Commercializing a new species

Seaweed is a well-known and widely used functional component, where it can be processed and used as e.g., a sweetener or a thickener or as a component in feed. But for the time being, seaweed sourced in Asia has a price advantage for supplying this ingredient, which has made Royal Greenland focus on creating different products with our seaweed.

Seaweed has an advantage in terms of current food trends, where consumers are looking to eat more plant-based proteins and focus on choosing sustainably sourced products. But unlike Asian countries, where there is a century old tradition for consuming seaweed, Europeans are more unfamiliar with the product.

“We have investigated several new products with seaweed and together with Nordic Seaweed, we have come up with a very tasty seaweed pesto, that has been developed with 3 different flavour varieties. The pesto is a great mix of the trendy seaweed and the more traditional and well-known pesto. Seaweed is also a great fit for Nordic cuisine, used as an ingredient in soups or servings with seafood.” – Jan Sonjoki, Product Development Manager at Royal Greenland.

The seaweed pesto is ready for sale as a pasteurized product, which is a great way of beginning the dialogue with customers about seaweed from Greenland and to learn more about seaweed as a commercialized product.


Seaweed pesto

The seaweed pesto comes in 3 flavour varieties; Traditional green pesto, where the basil has been replaced with seaweed, tomato pesto with seaweed and a vegan version, where the cheese has been substituted by tofu.


Besides being tasty in pesto, seaweed has several advantages in terms of nutrition; it contains a lot of different vitamins and minerals, and it is the most nutrient dense plant on the planet, with over 10 times more nutrient per kg than any land plant. Seaweed has more iron than spinach, more vitamin C than oranges and more calcium than milk, just to name a few of them.

“The next step within product development is a seaweed salad targeted towards Nordic markets with a potential for greater volumes. In general, seaweed compliments our range of seafood very well and will – on the long term – also have opportunity to be developed into a variety of products; it could for instance be used as a component in breading, as an ingredient to lower the salt level in fish cakes or to smoke cod or salmon over.“ – Marianne Nørtoft Overbye, Project manager and Purchase coordinator at Royal Greenland.


Originally published on 16 February.

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