Food, fertilizer, fuel: Why the worldwide demand for seaweed is growing

Why demand for seaweed is about to boom
Why demand for seaweed is about to boom

Seaweed is used in more than just sushi. The ocean-grown crop can be found as a food additive in almond milk or in plant-based meats. It's even in moisturizers, fertilizers, animal feed and can be used as an alternative food source.

All of this is to say global demand for seaweed is expanding. The seaweed commercial market size could surpass $85 billion by 2026, according to Global Market Insights, a research firm.

At the same time, seaweed is pretty essential to the life of the planet. The U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration says marine algae produces anywhere from 50% to 80% of the Earth's oxygen supply, and seaweed absorbs a huge amount of carbon dioxide from the atmosphere, according to the World Bank. In fact, there are other reasons that farming seaweed could be part of combating global warming. 

"Regenerative ocean farming is growing crops that breathe life back into the ocean," said Bren Smith, seaweed farmer and founder of Thimble Island Ocean Farm and GreenWave. "No freshwater, no fertilizer, no feed make it the most sustainable food on the planet. But at the same time, our crops soak up carbon, nitrogen, rebuild reef systems. So, they really become engines of restoration as we're farming and try to make a living."

Smith says all it takes to get started in seaweed farming is $20,000, 20 acres and a boat.

Watch the video above to learn about what makes up the seaweed industry, and what it takes to farm kelp.