Kelp-focused firm Oceanium garners GBP 2 million investment
Oceanium, the Oban, Scotland-based biotech start-up focused on the development of innovative biodegradable materials and products derived from sustainably-sourced kelp, closed a GBP 2 million (USD 2.7 million) seed II funding round this week.
The investment – led by Green Angel Syndicate, with WWF as an anchor investor, alongside SyndicateRoom, Glass Wall Syndicate members, Kingfisher Capital, an ultra-high-net-worth family office and green angel investors from Europe, the U.K., and the U.S. – will help the company to scale up its proprietary biorefinery and processing model to open up the market for the emerging algae farming industry.
Using cascade refinery techniques, Oceanarium has pioneered production of home-compostable packaging materials and climate-friendly food ingredients, including protein, fiber, and bioactive nutraceuticals from sustainably farmed seaweed. Its Ocean Actives range of nutraceuticals and cosmeceuticals are expected to be available in Q4 2021.
“Oceanium’s pioneering expansion of processing capacity for farmed seaweed is an exciting step for the industry. Brought to scale, cultivated seaweed could help achieve conservation goals by providing a nutritious source of food and livestock feed with fewer land and resource inputs,” Paul Dobbins, WWF’s senior director of impact investing and ecosystems services, aquaculture, said in a release.
Oceanium Founder and CEO Karen Scofield Seal expressed delight at the interest in her company and the caliber of investors in the second funding round.
“This highlights the opportunity we have to create a market for sustainably farmed seaweed and drive systemic change by providing regenerative food and material sources. We will continue to work closely with regional and global conservation partners including WWF, Safe Seaweed Coalition, and Seaweed for Europe to ensure we lay the best possible foundations for what will be a transformative industry in terms of both economic, societal, and environmental impact,” she said.
A recent report commissioned by Crown Estate Scotland found seaweed-farming has real opportunities for expansion and holds huge economic potential for Scotland’s coastal communities. However, the emerging industry currently lacks the infrastructure and network required to process sustainably farmed seaweed at scale. Key to success is the need for market development, along with the availability of processing capability to add value and enable higher returns on investment. The work being done by Oceanarium and the market it will provide for seaweed farmers, offer exciting possibilities for the future, according to the report.
Oceanium Co-Founder and CTO Charlie Bavington told SeafoodSource his company’s innovative biorefinery process has built on decades of experience to provide the technology needed to extract the maximum value from seaweed.
“We are on a journey together with seaweed farmers, encouraging them to grow in line with our vision, which is to enable them to produce tens of thousands of metric tons of seaweed per year. By developing products which are in very high demand, we aim to drive the market for farmed seaweed in the U.K., Europe, and North America,” he said.
The company, which was founded just three years ago, is on track to process 50 metric tons (MT) of kelp this year, purchased from seaweed farmers in the U.K. and Europe. This will allow for the processes and systems to be commercially trialed, with the aim of scaling up to 250 MT of production in 2022, and more thereafter.
Oceanium is currently renting a food-processing plant, to which seaweed farmers send their crops after pre-processing it close to their farms to reduce its volume. The main species of interest are the brown seaweeds, sugar kelp (Laminaria saccharina), oarweed (Laminaria digitata) and winged kelp (Alaria escalenta) and the company is keen to hear from anyone farming them," Bavington said.
“It is very early days for us, but we have made huge progress. We have developed a supplier specification, so that seaweed farmers understand what they have to produce for us in terms of quality and sustainability standards, we have just got our [Safe and Local Supplier Accreditation], and are on a journey to obtain BRC [certification,” Bavington said
Bavington said what Oceanium is doing is a "pretty huge undertaking" but he said its team "recognizes that the challenges for the farmers are equally big."
“There are lots of unknowns for them," he said. "It is difficult to obtain licenses in the U.K. and it has not been easy to raise money for new aquaculture projects. However, by creating a demand for seaweed, and forward ordering from farmers, we are beginning to see interest from green impact investors creep into the sector. Ultimately, we hope that seaweed farming can be as big in the Western Hemisphere as it is in Asia."
Photo courtesy of Oceanium