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Commercial Cultivation of Macroalgae Kappaphycus alvarezii and its Impact on the Brazilian Bioeconom

As Brazil navigates the currents of bioeconomy and sustainable development, it emerges as a pioneer in an innovative industry - algaculture, the cultivation of macroalgae. This sustainable practice, relying solely on seawater and sunlight for algal growth, is critical to the marine food chain and the carbon cycle. The use of seaweeds in food, medicine, and numerous other applications traces back to ancient times and is increasingly valued as an eco-friendly alternative to animal-derived products. Among various algae species, the macroalga Kappaphycus alvarezii stands out as a cultivation focus in over 20 countries, presenting a promising option to boost the Brazilian bioeconomy.


Kappaphycus alvarezii, a tropical red seaweed, is notable for its rapid and exceptional growth, potentially doubling its biomass in just 15 days. Global interest in K. alvarezii primarily stems from its utility as a raw material for producing phycocolloids, particularly carrageenans, extensively utilized as stabilizers and thickeners in the food industry. As a result, the market for seaweed-derived products mobilizes millions of dollars annually, with significant consumers in Asia, Europe, and the Americas, including Brazil. In Brazil, we annually import millions of dollars' worth of carrageenans to meet domestic demand.

Rich in nutrients like carbohydrates, proteins, calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, sodium, and potassium, K. alvarezii also assists in preventing chronic diseases like diabetes, obesity, and heart diseases. However, despite being introduced in Brazil approximately 30 years ago to meet the growing demand for carrageenans, the applications of K. alvarezii extend beyond the food industry. They encompass a diverse range of industrial applications, including direct human and animal consumption, use in cosmetics and medicines, agricultural uses, and even in the production of biofuels, such as third-generation ethanol. In this context, the application of liquid seaweed extracts as organic bio-stimulants in agriculture has gained prominence, owing to their excellent growth and plant resistance properties.


Macroalgae cultivation can be undertaken using fixed or floating structures. This practice presents a lower environmental impact than livestock farming or traditional agriculture, as seaweeds utilize only seawater and require no irrigation, pesticides, or fertilizers. Besides environmental benefits, cultivating K. alvarezii has immense potential to benefit the Brazilian bioeconomy. Firstly, domestic production of this macroalga would reduce carrageenan import needs, saving valuable resources that could be invested elsewhere in the economy. Moreover, seaweed cultivation could generate jobs, especially in coastal communities with limited subsistence alternatives. Commercial cultivation of K. alvarezii could also diversify the Brazilian economy. According to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the bioeconomy encompasses "all economic activities related to the invention, development, production, and use of biological products and processes." Thus, by expanding seaweed cultivation, Brazil will contribute to a greener, more sustainable economy.


In Brazil, especially in Rio de Janeiro and Santa Catarina states, the cultivation practice of Kappaphycus has garnered increasing interest. According to 2022 data, approximately seven licensed seaweed producers exist between the Baía da Ilha Grande and Paraty in Rio de Janeiro, with an annual production of at least 4,000 tons. On the other hand, Santa Catarina has witnessed a green, sustainable revolution in aquaculture. With IBAMA's authorization in 2020, which permitted activity from the extreme north to the south of the state, K. alvarezii began being commercially cultivated, reflecting the government's intent to exploit the state's maritime potential. Also, 2022 statistics show that there are currently four producers in Santa Catarina, cultivating the alga over a 3.20-hectare area, producing a total of 102.3 tons of fresh alga.


It's crucial to underscore that seaweed cultivation must be conducted responsibly, requiring preliminary studies and continuous environmental monitoring to avoid negative impacts like bioinvasion. The integrated cultivation practice of different algae species is becoming a trend, as it creates synergy among species and optimizes marine environment usage. Despite the enormous potential of K. alvarezii, challenges remain. Variable environmental conditions, for instance, can affect the alga's growth, and producer inexperience can result in inefficient cultivation practices. Additionally, the Brazilian seaweed industry is only beginning, necessitating more research and development. However, there are many opportunities for expanding the cultivation of K. alvarezii in Brazil. The country's extensive coastline, coupled with favorable environmental conditions, makes it an ideal location for mariculture. Furthermore, the increasing attention to bioeconomy and the commitment to sustainability provide a unique opportunity for Brazil to position itself as a leader in macroalgae cultivation.


Demand for algae in Brazil is on the rise, primarily driven by the biofertilizer industry. Currently, Kappaphycus alvarezii is the only algae commercially produced on a large scale, bolstering the biofertilizer and carrageenan industries and encouraging research and development of new seaweed-derived products, like bioplastics! Besides, seaweed cultivation promotes biodiversity and marine ecosystem health. By absorbing atmospheric carbon dioxide, seaweeds play a key role in combating climate change. They are also recognized for improving water quality by absorbing excess nutrients that could otherwise contribute to marine ecosystem eutrophication.


To further foster marine algae cultivation in Brazil, we need to consider various factors such as governmental support, the existence of a secure and reliable market, availability of economic resources, efficient design and management of marine farms, producer training, and research investment. Mariculturists require continuous training to acquire skills and technical knowledge about seaweed cultivation. This includes understanding the algae life cycle, cultivation site selection, seedling preparation, and maintaining cultures, among other aspects. Additionally, research investments to enhance cultivation techniques and develop new applications for seaweeds are essential. Regarding governmental support, public policies oriented towards mariculture need to be established, including tax incentives, financing, and legal security. Similarly, the existence of a secure and reliable market is vital for the development of the algae industry. The seaweed-derived products market is expanding, and producers need the confidence that there will be demand for their products. Also, ensuring the economic sustainability of the marine algae cultivation program is crucial, requiring initial investments for cultivation establishment and resources for the program's maintenance and expansion. Additionally, competent management of the mariculture program is vital. This includes effective coordination among different actors involved, such as governments, producers, researchers, and the industry, along with efficient resource management and constant monitoring to ensure its effectiveness and sustainability.


Grisea, a leader in developing seaweed bioplastics in Brazil, is committed to promoting responsible marine algae cultivation among its partners and suppliers, exploiting the full potential of these species to drive the Brazilian industry. We are determined to develop innovative bioplastics from cultivable marine algae like Kappaphycus alvarezii, targeting not just economic prosperity but also environmental preservation and social development promotion. Join us on this journey towards a more sustainable future where marine algae play a pivotal role in the Brazilian bioeconomy. Contact us to learn more about investment opportunities and partnerships in this continuously growing sector.


Content and writing by: Felipe Teixeira

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