Asia R&D and Innovations Seaweed and Algae

Could Seaweed Revolutionise the Bioplastics Sector?

The most commonly used materials to produce bioplastics are corn, sugarcane, vegetable oil and starch. There may be a new kid on the block: (red) seaweed. 

9 billion tonnes of plastics have been produced since 1950. The plastic packaging industry was valued at US$270 billion in 2014 and is projected to increase to $375 billion by 2020.

Seaweed is cheap and can grow without fertilizers unlike other terrestrial plants. Seaweed grows offshore and does not use any land destined for agricultural commodities.

red seaweed bioplastics

Indonesia is one of the world’s largest seaweed producers, accounting for more than a third of global seaweed production. Their seaweed export was valued at around US$200 million in 2014, and production is probably growing at around 30% per year.

Indonesia is also the world’s largest producer of red seaweed, whose carbohydrate element is the key ingredient for bioplastics.

Indonesian start-up Evoware has invented cups and food containers made from farmed seaweeds and sold them commercially. More research is needed to know what other bioplastics applications are possible for  seaweed.

Seaweeds are primitive plants belonging to algae family. There’s is no particular definition for the term seaweed, as there is no one common ancestor to seaweeds. The term seaweed is used commonly to describe a certain group of plants with distinctive properties. Seaweeds, are plant-like organisms that generally live attached to rock or other hard substrata in coastal areas. There organised in three types:

  • brown algae (phylum Ochrophyta, class Phaeophyceae),
  • red algae (phylum Rhodophyta)
  • green algae (phylum Chlorophyta, classes Bryopsidophyceae, Chlorophyceae, Dasycladophyceae, Prasinophyceae, and Ulvophyceae).

Red and brown algae are almost exclusively marine, whilst green algae are also common in freshwater (rivers and lakes), and even in terrestrial (rocks, walls, houses, and tree bark in damp places) situations. Many of these algae are very ancient organisms, and although lumped together as “algae”, are not really very closely related.

What is the difference between seaweed and algae

  • Seaweeds are a group of algae
  • Diversity of algae is extremely high and incomparable with that of seaweeds.
  • Algae can be unicellular and multi-cellular, whereas seaweeds are only multi-cellular.
  • Seaweed are autotrophic, whereas some algal species rely on other external food materials.
  • Algae can be found in freshwater and marine waters, while seaweeds can only be found in seawaters.
  • Marine algae can live in shallow and deep waters, while seaweeds mostly inhabit shallow waters

What is the difference between seaweed and plants

  • Seaweeds absorb water and nutrients in all their tissues. Plants have complex system of roots, specialized tissues and leaves that help them to collect and distribute water.
  • Seaweeds can do photosynthesis in all their tissues; most plants photosynthesize only in their leaves.

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