From high-protein food to plastics and fuel, Swedish scientists are attempting to tap the marine plant’s huge potential
You can just see the buoys of the seafarm,” Dr Sophie Steinhagen yells over the high whine of the boat as it approaches the small islands of Sweden’s Koster archipelago. The engine drops to a sputter, and Steinhagen heaves up a rope to reveal the harvest hanging beneath: strand after strand of sea lettuce, translucent and emerald green.
“This is one individual that we would collect now and keep as a parent, because it’s growing very fast,” she exclaims. In summer, these waters teem with sea kayaks and yachts from neighbouring Norway, but for Steinhagen and the seafarming group at the Tjärnö Marine Laboratory, spring is their peak season.
For one thing, it means less animal and plant life on the seaweed. “When you buy a lettuce, you don’t want to have a caterpillar in there. The same is true for seaweed: you don’t want a crab or snail eggs”. More importantly, spring is also when sea lettuce yields the most protein.
In fact, experts believe that seaweed could be a key crop in the “protein shift” away from meat. Some of last spring’s harvest here hit about 30% protein, close to the level that would make it compete against the world’s other big protein sources like meat and soya…
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