Introducing: PhycoMExUK

SARTRAC recently had the opportunity to meet Amy Pilsbury and Mike Allen from the PhycoMExUK team, and to learn more about their work to turn seaweed into fertilisers.

  • The focus of SARTRAC is on transformational adaption and generating equitable opportunities for the poorest of the poor from Sargassum, and the work includes case study sites in Jamaica, St Lucia and Ghana.
  • The PhycoMExUK vision is on turning seaweed, such as Sargassum, into fertilisers to boost Mexico’s agricultural industry, with one big question being: what seaweed product has a large enough market to absorb 9 million tonnes of Sargassum?

Two different yet complementary angles of research on that big, brown question: how do we turn a disruptive seaweed into an opportunity?

From the shores back to the shores: Sargassum for soil amelioration in an environmental application. See SARTRAC’s Re-using Sargassum for further information on these experiments (Left image taken by Nasheika Guyah, right image taken by Mona Webber).

Within the interdisciplinary work packages of SARTRAC, Dr Thierry Tonon from the University of York (UK) and Prof Mona Webber from the University of West Indies (Jamaica) are co-leading the research that aims to use algae to generate benefits for developing countries in the Caribbean and West Africa. Prof Mona Webber is in charge of determining the most abundant morphotypes in the Sargassum biomass beaching in Jamaica, as well as testing Sargassum compost for restoration of red mangrove. Dr Thierry Tonon is leading on the compositional analysis of Sargassum biomass harvested in Jamaica, with a focus on sugar and antioxidant contents.

Testing the application of Sargassum compost on mangrove plants: see SARTRAC’s Re-using Sargassum for further information on these experiments (Image taken by Delroy Thorney).

So why the excitement about meeting the wonderful team from PhycoMExUK?

There is a vast number of unanswered questions about Sargassum and its potential uses in various products: PhycoMExUK is taking the innovative step of testing the effectiveness of Hydrothermal Liquefaction (HTL) and Hydrothermal Carbonisation (HTC) to create scalable products to be used in agricultural and fuel industries. In that work, they seek not only to test Sargassum in the HTL and HTC processes, but to:

  • Build networks to support the potential seaweed product market,
  • Foster balance between environmental concerns and industrial designs for the seaweed, and,
  • Ensure the environmental-economic sustainability of the process and product.
The PhycoMExUK process: from beach to lab (Images taken by Eleni Karamerou and Rebecca Dowell)

The PhycoMExUK team is composed of a partnership of researchers from the University of Exeter, Plymouth Marine Laboratory, the University of Bath, La Universidad Autónoma de Baja California and Biorganix. The work is being funded by the Newton Fund and GCRF (Global Challenges Research Fund)

The PhycoMExUK processes of HTL and HTC: turning seaweed into stuff (Graphics created and property of Amy Pilsbury).

Talks between SARTRAC and PhycoMExUK focused mainly on the re-use of Sargassum and the complementary directions from which the two projects are researching this: as a large-scale industrial process that can be applied at the national or even regional scale (PhycoMExUK), and the potential for small-scale, localised processes that can be rolled out at household and community scales (SARTRAC). That said: there is much scope for collaboration between the two projects, from sharing seaweed samples and insights, to building future research together.

Here’s to more fruitful discussions and partnership between PhycoMExUK and SARTRAC.

Follow PhycoMExUK on Twitter @PhycoMExUK

Follow SARTRAC on Twitter @SARTRAC1

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