Europe Invests In Seaweed Fiber Farms For Textile Production

 

Benjamin Fitzgerald

Making seaweed more accessible as a renewable resource for textiles, Sioen Industries has revealed plans to commercialize its patented seaweed cultivation substrates, under a collective spin-off division, At Sea Technologies.

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Seaweed is a renewable, cellulosic fiber taken from the ocean. When blended with other fibers, it can be used to manufacture woven fabrics. Traditionally used in Chinese medicine seaweed to protect the skin, seaweed boasts anti-inflammatory qualities and is said harness deep-sea minerals – even in fabric form.

Since the early 2000s, advanced technologies in seaweed production have made this fiber more usable in the production of apparel – seen mostly in knits, underwear and sports wear.

Making the sea fiber more accessible as a resource, Sioen Industries has revealed plans to commercialize its patented seaweed cultivation substrates, under a collective spin-off division, At Sea Technologies.

The technical fabric manufacturer will soon sell turnkey seaweed farms to manufacturers under the name At Sea, providing an alternative to cotton and bamboo yarns typically used in fabric.

To develop the farms, Sioen has been working hard - since 2012 - with seven other partners under the EU 7th framework project. Currently, the project targets the development of 2-D seaweed cultivation substrates; showing manufacturers just how feasible seaweed cultivation is in Europe – both physically and economically. 

“Seaweed is an important source for our future supply of food and feed (additives), biochemical, biomaterials and bioenergy,” says Bert Groenendaal, coordinator of At Sea Technologies.

At Sea is comprised of six companies from Belgium, Spain, The Netherlands, Ireland and Morocco, and two research institutes from Belgium and the UK. The group will start their official production activities in August, 2015 with the first target being to deploy a 1 ha test farm for seaweed cultivation in Norway by September.

All funding comes from the European Union’s Seventh Framework Programme – a EU fund that boasts 50 billion euros to go toward innovation and competitiveness in European business. 

Why use seaweed in fabric?

Seaweed fiber is water-soluble and serves as the holding fiber when blended with other cellulose matter. It’s typically combined with eucalyptus fiber during a lyocell production process (a solvent spinning technique where the cellulose undergoes no significant chemical change), by which the eucalyptus forms the 'functioning substrate' for the seaweed.

This eucalyptus-seaweed fabric blend contains benefits for human skin and is UV-protectant. And, adding metal ions into the seaweed during the lyocell process creates an antibacterial element too.  

Meanwhile, antimicrobial fibers produced by conventional methods in the seaweed manufacturing process can either be surface-finished with antimicrobial active chemicals, or produced by incorporating organic substances with antimicrobial effects - without losing the natural benefits of seaweed.