Each year the council warning notices start to appear around our local loch - dogs (and any wild swimmers!) are to keep out of the water: the blue- green algal blooms have returned again. These blooms are a result of eutrophication. High levels of nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus) are leached into the water leading to the rapid growth of cyanobacteria. The resulting algal blooms are not only toxic to human and animal health but cut off light and deplete oxygen levels in the water. These blooms are found in both freshwater and oceans and are highly damaging to aquatic ecosystems.
So I was delighted to read that Origin by Ocean (ObO), a Finnish start-up company, has developed a new biorefinery process that harvests algal blooms from the ocean and transforms them into high value ingredients for use in detergents, cosmetics and in packaging materials. Their technology is also being applied to Sargossam - a polluting seaweed found in tropical and temperate oceans. Since its inception in 2019 the company has received funding from the EU and private investors and plans to have a fully operational biorefinery plant by 2025. ObO's solution offers the dual benefits of cleaning up bodies of water whilst also providing a sustainable raw feedstock for many different consumer goods.
Founder and CEO of ObO is Mari Granström who has an impressive set of credentials as an innovator, having worked in R&D at both BASF and Stora Enso. A quick patent search reveals Dr Granström is listed as an inventor on numerous patents for both companies. ObO already shows an awareness of the importance of intellectual property to its business by repeated references to its "patented biorefinery process" across its website and claims to hold four patents. ObO has also given some careful thought to branding as the name of the process, Nauvu, is indicated as a registered trade mark.
The use of seaweed and algae to provide alternatives to the fossil fuel-derived feedstocks is certainly an exciting and fast-growing field. A further example is Notpla, a UK-based company providing seaweed and plant-based packaging materials as an alternative to plastic. Notpla was one of the five Earthshot prizewinners this year. Perhaps we will see ObO on the shortlist next year!