Seagriculture EU
29 - 30 June 2022
Bremerhaven, Germany

Poor Seaweed – such Great Expectations

David Mackie, Marine Biopolymers Ltd, UK

About the speaker:

Founding Director of Marine Biopolymers Ltd, a seaweed biorefining company. A relative novice in seaweeds (only 10 years!) but now has extensive knowledge and experience, both at the detailed and the strategic level, and a previous “life” in both Speciality Chemicals and Forest Products, including on the Market side, has enabled this.
Company info: 

Marine Biopolymers Ltd (or MBL) is a Scottish based company specialising in the Biorefining of Brown (mainly Kelp) seaweeds. Currently at Pilot Scale but transiting to full scale Commercial production, after many learning experiences along the way. It has patented technology in seaweed biorefining, with especial relevance to (Wild or Natural) Laminaria hyperborea and key/core products include Alginate, Cellulose and High Potassium salt.


Stimulated both by the digital world and the “Climate Crisis”, seaweed has become a very “hot” material and what seems like an infinite list of claims is being made about what it can do and many of these claims circulate around the internet with little or no proper explanation and validation. It is now time to sober up and bring a dose of reality to seaweed and not just what it can do, but what it realistically can’t do. Claims about seaweed have reached almost mythical status and the presentation will consider some of these, especially in the context of where the seaweed industry actually is today, especially in the Western Hemisphere. 


Climate crisis, seaweed, hot, infinite, claims, circulate, little, explanation, validation, sober up, dose of reality, mythical, industry, today, Western Hemisphere


What is your view on the development of the European seaweed industry in recent years?

It is quite a challenge to arrive at some overall view on this as there have been many, many things going on, but if I was to try to answer simply, I would say that in reality, or substance, it has not actually developed that much. There is a lot of noise (hype even) around Seaweed at present and today the “style” is way ahead of the “substance”. The Wild or Natural segment has, on balance, stayed largely the same as it was, with both ups and downs, but it remains in size terms by far the largest part of the European seaweed industry. The Cultivated segment is where much of the focus is, with many new players wanting to get in to have their own slice of the cake, but the problem still is that the cake is very small and this is where the style is a long way ahead of the substance. There has been, and is, a lot of “producer push” and not a lot of “market pull” and most of the critical aspects relating to cultivated seaweed remain unanswered (end uses, price, quality, availability), so this is the mountain ahead that has to be climbed for the segment to achieve any real scale. Into this mix, has come, courtesy of the whole Climate Change debate, some ambitious and extravagant schemes, and these have really been the causes of the hype now surrounding seaweed – the danger is that the “great expectations” that have been created will not be met, and that will not be good for the reputation of “seaweed” as a whole

Your Seaweed myths on LinkedIn are attracting a lot of discussions. Do you have a new seaweed myth for us? 

This is slightly more rhetorical than the other ones so it is put as more of a question rather than a statement, so: “Seaweed – a “superfood” (or not)?
What will you be talking about at Seagriculture 2022 in Bremerhaven? 

I will focus on the “Great Expectations” surrounding seaweed at present, and whether the Charles Dickens novel is appropriate, or whether the seaweed industry is heading for a “Grimm Fairy Tale” (I know this is a play on words but given that the conference is in Germany ….). I will also suggest that the industry needs to develop a broad consensus on what seaweed can realistically do, and what it can’t do