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North Sea to get world’s first offshore seaweed farm
A wind farm in the North Sea is taking part in a unique project to grow seaweed on a large scale among its turbines. The production system will be installed at the end of this year and the first harvest is scheduled for next spring.
Over the next two years, the Belgian-Dutch consortium Wier & Wind will test whether seaweed can be grown at the Norther offshore wind farm, 23km off Zeebrugge. It will be the first of its kind anywhere in the world. A number of small seaweed growers have been established in recent years, but these are mainly in sheltered areas or close to the coast, and there are too few suitable locations to meet the increasing demand.
Wind farms at sea are seen as a suitable alternative, as they offer large, empty spaces that can be used for sustainable food production.
“Seaweed farms can contribute to a carbon-neutral future for our planet,” says Thierry Aelens, executive director of Norther NV. “At Norther, we therefore consider it important to support this initiative and we are very curious about the commercial success of offshore seaweed farms because they are complementary to our activities at sea.”
The global demand for seaweed is high and is expected to rise. Its production doesn’t require soil, fresh water or fertilisers, and solutions such as growing between wind turbines can make the production process more efficient.
AtSeaNova – one of the Flemish partners in the consortium, which specialises in the design and installation of seaweed farms – says the project is the next step in achieving large-scale offshore cultivation of seaweed.
“Seaweed is the biomass of the future. It can be used for many large-scale applications, such as food, animal feed and biomaterials,” says project coordinator Bert Groenendaal of AtSeaNova, based in Ronse, East Flanders.
A boat travels to the wind farm for maintenance, technical inspections or urgent interventions most days. These sailings can eventually be shared with harvesting or maintenance of the seaweed farm.
Multiple use of space at sea in this way is an idea that authorities have been encouraging for a number of years and is included in the Belgian government’s Marine Spatial Plan. Wier & Wind is co-financed by the EU’s Interreg programme.