Exploring the Potential of Seaweed: Pre-summit interview with Karen Scofield Seal, CEO and Co-Founder of Oceanium

In this Q&A with Karen Scofield, we learn about Oceanium’s biorefinery, why seaweed is so exciting right now, and the investment opportunities available.

Oceanium develops innovative, all-natural products from sustainably-sourced seaweed. Learn more here.

Why is seaweed exciting right now?Karen Scofield Seal

There is so much potential! We are focusing on enabling the seaweed farming industry, to ensure that the infrastructure is in place for seaweed to play an important role in future food security and supply. Of course, as a zero-input crop – using no cleared land, fertiliser, pesticide or fresh water – seaweed has a lot to offer future food systems and can help to create the systemic change needed to face the global food challenge caused by drought conditions, extreme weather and soil erosion.

I think we are just scratching the surface at this point and that there is so much the industry still has left to discover, particularly on the unique health benefits of different species.

Are there any new technologies or projects on your radar that our audience should be aware of?

Oceanium’s biorefinery of course. We are very proud of the cascade biorefinery that we are scaling up – we are driven by making this process net zero and as close to zero waste as possible. And we think it is possible.

In 2021, we were awarded an EMFF grant for our KELP-EU project which is all about scaling up processing and providing a market for sustainably farmed seaweed; as part of the project we’re processing 150t.

We’re also really excited about our new Smart 3 Innovate UK grant focusing on protein which means expanding the species we work with to include green seaweeds!

There’s a lot of great work going on across the sector – the recently launched Seaweed Academy is run by the Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), our neighbours in Oban, and is going to be such a useful knowledge base for our industry. We are in touch with key stakeholders in Alaska where there is real motivation to see the development of this blue industry for local people.

There has been similar excitement and hype around the potential of seaweed for many years, what is different now and what new commercial opportunities have arisen?

The climate emergency is not a passing trend and has really focused people’s minds in finding solutions for food security. Our current food system is not fit for purpose – with high inefficiencies and susceptibility to extreme weather caused by anthropogenic climate change, drought conditions and soil erosion.

Farmed seaweed can play an important role in systemic change of our food system as a regenerative and restorative crop. If the industry in the western hemisphere develops in a responsible and sustainable manner, seaweed farming, processing and technology can provide important jobs for coastal communities and income diversification that can help to build resilience.

In terms of commercial opportunities, our cascade biorefinery approach is showing how we can maximise extraction, leaving as little waste as possible behind and creating multiple high demand products thus creating demand for sustainably farmed seaweed- effectively jump starting the seaweed industry in western hemisphere. Achieving these levels of efficiency will help the industry to grow while embedding sustainable practices right from the start – ensuring the industry grows in a sustainable managed way is hugely important to Oceanium.

What is the investment landscape like currently for seaweed and algae production, harvesting and processing?

Oceanium has received incredible support from the impact investment community including investment from WWF, Builders Vision, GAS, Sky Ocean Ventures, Katapult Ocean as well as significant EU and UK grants. The sustainable seaweed industry is still at an early stage in the western hemisphere but is rightfully gaining significant attention, support and investment due to the numerous environmental, economic and societal benefits, and the wide variety of applications.

It is fantastic to have you involved with the first Blue Food Innovation Summit – who are you excited to meet at the conference?

We are looking forward to hearing about the development of new technologies like sensors and monitoring systems that can make seaweed farming as sustainable and efficient as possible, as well as the amazing potential for seaweed’s contribution to the alt protein landscape! We’re at a real inflection point to change food systems. It will also be great to connect to our seaweed industry friends including farmers like Ocean Rainforest, as well as the food tech and environmentally focused impact community.

We are very grateful to our investors who chose to support us in 2020 and 2021 as we grew the business despite challenges so we’re very excited to finally meet some of them in person for the first time.

Karen will join a panel on ‘Seaweed & Algae Commercialisation: Food, Feed & Biorefining’ alongside leaders from WWF, Ocean Rainforest, Lloyd’s Register Foundation, and Kelp Blue at the Blue Food Innovation Summit on June 14-15. View the full agenda.