How often have you seen shiny green layers of algae over water bodies and been annoyed by them? Mari Granstrom took matters into her own hands and decided to use them to save the environment. The result was the startup, Origin by Ocean that Granstrom started in 2019
Image Credit – Wikimedia Commons
What causes Algal Outbreaks?
Algal outbreaks occur when cyanobacteria, also referred to as blue-green algae, reproduce on a large scale covering the water bodies. This is also harmful to aquatic life as – it cuts off contact with sunlight and oxygen from the atmosphere. This phenomenon is termed eutrophication and causes a reduction in essential fish habitats.
The increased use of artificial fertilizers in agriculture is possibly one of the reasons behind the uncontrolled growth of algae. Nitrogen and phosphorus get washed away from the fields and reach water bodies. The increase in the nutrient supply provides these bacteria with a bigger opportunity to grow.
Image Credit- Pixabay
How can we turn this into an opportunity?
Granstrom first discovered this problem while scuba diving in the Baltic sea. She took matters into her own hands and harvested the algae. Using her knowledge of biochemistry, she used these algae as an ingredient for developing many products.
Granstrom’s journey began with a mission to clean water bodies but she soon realized that it needed to be handled on a larger scale. So she founded Origin by Ocean (Obo), which aims at washing the ocean. The company has received a great response from everyone and European Union Funds have even made a commercial investment in it.
ObO cleans the water by separating the algae from the ocean. They also import sargassum from the Dominican Republic in the Caribbean, where more than 25 million tons of sargassum blooms every year. These algae have been creating problems like the eutrophication of water bodies, difficulty in fishing, and a negative effect on tourism.
Sargassum might seem like a problem but these algae have many health benefits and are used in several medications. It is used as an anti-cancer, and anti-viral, and has a neuroprotective chemical. These are tropical and subtropical species of algae. Rich in bioactive elements such as vitamins, and dietary fibres, and is a good source of nutrients as well.
ObO is processing algae at a processing facility in Northern Finland where it uses a patented biorefinery technology called “Nauvu” to separate the algae into numerous useful materials. These are then sold to food, cosmetics, packaging, and agricultural companies. The packing is where it can be used as an alternative to plastic.
Just like ObO, Nordic Seafarm in Sweden is a government-funded project aiming to commercialise aquaculture research. They harvest their seaweed and use it for the production of beverages like algae-based beer and gin. If used wisely, algae can be used as a tool to support the economy of a country.