Startup says seaweed flowing to Florida has a bright side
A brown macroalgae native to the Sargasso Sea of the Atlantic is increasingly a threat to coastal ecosystems and communities in the Gulf of Mexico, since mats of normally beneficial algae (known as sargassum) exploded in numbers in 2011. That’s the backdrop for Carbonwave, which recently raised 5 millions of dollars to take advantage of massive algal blooms.
The researchers say runoff from farms and sewage is likely to cause the ‘Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt’ which now stretches 5,000 miles. Climate change could also play a role.
There’s no need to run screaming from the sargassum, despite the tone of some stories covering flowers bound for Florida. Yet they pose a threat to coral reefs and tourism-dependent livelihoods. When things pile up on beaches, they rot, emitting stinky hydrogen sulfide.
The recent sargassum power surges are forcing people to find creative ways to get rid of it, and already, the possible applications run the gamut. Researchers and entrepreneurs aim to turn it into syrup, bricks and even kerosene. As for Carbonwave, the Boston and Puerto Rico-based startup uses it in fertilizers, cosmetics, and even faux leather.
Backed by ESG-themed investment firms Natixis and Viridios Capital, as well as ocean-focused VC Katapult, Carbonwave says the new funds will help it scale up production of its seaweed-based emulsifier for cosmetics. The startup said in a statement that it “has already sold half a ton” of its emulsifier, which it created as an alternative to petroleum-based ingredients. The company also claimed that its Sargassum fertilizer “reduces the need” for nitrogen fertilizers that cause climate change.
CEO Geoff Chapin said Carbonwave makes these products through a “proprietary extraction process,” which involves squeezing algae and removing arsenic. The process yields a liquid fertilizer, while the remaining pulp forms the base for the emulsifier and faux leather. According to Chapin, the company uses “almost every part of the seaweed to make these products.”
Carbonwave is part of a wave of startups vying to turn algae into more environmentally friendly products. For starters, there’s Algiknit backed by H&M (now Keel Labs), which creates textiles; a large number of bioplastics companies, including Loliware and ULUU; and a company called Umaro, which makes sea blubber. Seaweed startups often focus on commercializing kelp in one way or another, but a few (like Carbonwave and Seaweed Generation) focus on the sargassum.
“We need to put it to good use before it creates more ecological and climate damage,” Carbonwave told TechCrunch.
The startup added that it could increase its S$5 millionSeries A with additional funding later. He’s gotten at least $12 million so far.