While Mainers have been harvesting seaweed for nearly 80 years for a variety of uses and products, in recent years wild harvests have not been able to meet market demand for some species. The Maine Technology Institute (MTI) stepped in to provide $50,000 to help form a Maine algal cluster that would include those involved in both macroalgae (e.g., sea vegetables) and microalgae (e.g., seed stock) to help the industry take advantage of a growing market.
The funds awarded under MTI's cluster initiative program will "encourage innovation and foster growth of a sustainable, ecologically sound and profitable algal industry in Maine." Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay will take the lead in organizing the cluster, working closely with colleagues who have formed the Maine Algal Cluster Advisory Group. The group will have six months to develop an implementation roadmap for growing the industry.
"Maine's algal industry has huge potential," says Brian Whitney, MTI President. "It's all positive. Algae grow fast and are sustainable. They don't need potable water to grow. Commercial scale cultivation doesn't compete with more traditional agriculture or marine resources. Algae can be a carbon neutral source of energy, can mitigate pollution, and can be grown year round. We are pleased to offer our support to help the algal industry realize these potentials and benefit the Maine economy. "
The cluster will include those involved in both macro- and microalgal production to take full advantage of the synergies that can be created by unifying the industry. The cluster will help the sea vegetables industry expand through new product development, expansion into new markets, and improvements to processing techniques. Likewise, the microalgae industry has the potential to develop products from seed stock, biomass for natural pharmaceutical and nutraceutical products, and biofuels.
Participants in the Maine Algal Cluster are from the public and private sectors and include sea vegetable wild-harvest, aquaculture, processing businesses, private nonprofit research, education, economic development organizations, and academic institutions. The cluster is charged with coming up with a roadmap to develop and promote a Maine Algae brand, identify and resolve potential bottlenecks to forward progress, and raise public awareness about the multiple uses of algae.
Advisory Group member Shep Erhart, president and founder of Maine Coast Sea Vegetables, adds, "Our family has been in the business of harvesting sea vegetables since 1971. When we started, we never could have imagined the potential of this market. We now offer eight certified organic varieties of North Atlantic sea vegetables. The algal cluster has all the resources needed to conduct product research, bring products to market, and educate the public about healthy products with a Maine
brand. This will only help expand opportunities for all of us in the algal business here in Maine, and we are pleased to be a part of it."
The Maine Technology Institute is a publicly funded non-profit organization whose mission is to promote innovation in Maine through the funding of new technologies, and connecting entrepreneurs and start-up companies with the resources they need to help them commercialize their products and grow. Visit http://www.mainetechnology.org for more information.
Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences, an independent not-for-profit research institution on the coast of Maine, conducts research ranging from microbial oceanography to large-scale ocean processes that affect the global environment. Recognized as a leader in Maine's emerging innovation economy, the Laboratory's research, education, and technology transfer programs are spurring significant economic growth in the state.