Global food and pharmaceutical firms could benefit from a Scottish process capable of manufacturing useful ingredients from seaweed.

Ayrshire based Marine Biopolymers Ltd (MBL) has identified and developed a new and much improved process for the manufacture of alginate, a well known speciality chemical and a key component of brown seaweeds.

Producers in the food, pharmaceutical and nutraceutical fields will be able to take advantage of the seaweed origin product, and the process to extract the alginate will maintain maximum quality, add value locally and be harvested sustainably, all with a focus on minimal costs.

To date, Scotland boasts 60 years’ experience in manufacturing alginates, although basic extraction and production ceased in 2009. MBL, with its new process, including the use of wet (as opposed to dry) seaweed, sees an opportunity to reintroduce alginate manufacture nationally, on a globally competitive basis.


The Business Challenge

The company needed to carry out a laboratory-scale feasibility study to explore and prove its different and much improved production process using seaweeds harvested from the coastline of the Outer Hebrides and also to quantify the advantages.


The Solution

Following an introduction facilitated by Interface, to Dr Bruce Postlethwaite from the Department of Chemical and Process Engineering at the University of Strathclyde, MBL began a laboratory programme for its new process to manufacture alginate, part company-funded and part funded by a £70,000 SMART feasibility grant from Scottish Enterprise on behalf of the Scottish Government.

Following the SMART grant, Marine Biopolymers has also been successful in obtaining Strathclyde Links Feasibility funding and a TSB Feasibility Award to extend both the scope of its overall project to include other, even more valuable, seaweed components, and the HEI collaboration to include the University of Edinburgh, which was also facilitated by Interface.

The laboratory project itself was split into stages, involving the use of fresh wet seaweed from South Uist (which boasts a great local seaweed history) in regular batches to extract alginate under different conditions and with different technologies. This was to investigate the final production of the alginate, for example, turning process liquors into the finished dried sodium alginate.

Sodium alginate itself is used as a food thickener and stabiliser due to its high bio-compatibility - hence its presence in a wide range of everyday consumer products including ice-cream, olive oil spread and apple pie.

The Benefits

Key outcomes of the study carried out at the University of Strathclyde included proof that the new MBL process is much faster and simpler than current alginate processes. The technology also offers cost advantages and the end product has better functionality, purity and cost of use when compared to similar products already on the market

The next stage of the project will involve moving up to a pilot plant scale to optimise the process and confirm the best technologies for each process stage. Consistent quality samples will then undergo customer evaluation for different alginate applications in the food, pharmaceutical and textile sectors.

Thanks to Interface’s involvement, the project positions the Ayrshire firm as a global leader in alginate manufacturing. Companies which use the alginate products will boost their bottom line thanks to increased speed and quality consistency, as well as lower costs of use.