Turning seaweed into success
Harvesting one of our coastline's natural resources
June 14, 2011— Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
Acadian Seaplants Limited
While many of us do not see the wide range of benefits that can be derived from seaweed, there are those with a vision who have seen the future to be rich with value-added products from this amazing resource that grows naturally along our coastlines. Seaweed has a large and growing number of important uses and benefits to industries such as agriculture, animal and human health, personal care, cosmetics and pharmaceuticals.
Founded in the early 1980s, Acadian Seaplants Limited (ASL) has seen this potential, and has developed methods to transform seaweed into value-added products for use in Canada and abroad. With operations in Nova Scotia, New Brunswick and Prince Edward Island, Acadian Seaplants has developed a number of innovative techniques for domesticating and cultivating seaweed in land-based tanks. Not many people know that the world’s largest land facility used for the cultivation of sea vegetables for human food exists in Acadian Seaplants’ location in southwest Nova Scotia.
IRAP brings its services to seaweed
A close up of the Ascophyllum nodosum, Cornwallis, Nova Scotia
In fact, much of the ground-breaking work that made this possible was done in collaboration with the National Research Council of Canada Industrial Research Assistance Program (IRAP). IRAP has been there to help the company overcome a large number of technical challenges that have been encountered along the way. The collaborative efforts of IRAP and ASL have enabled the company to expand and diversify its product offerings to large, high-value international markets. IRAP has assisted ASL in identifying and developing sophisticated new technologies to produce edible sea vegetables of consistently high quality, which meet the exacting standards of the Japanese food market.
In addition, IRAP has helped other ASL divisions to engineer the process to sustainably manage seaweed harvested from the wild, most notably Ascophyllum nodosum. This type of seaweed is processed into products such as plant growth regulators and crop biostimulants, as well as animal feed for valuable agricultural markets. ASL has also integrated several commercial seaweed species into products for health, beauty, and brewery industries. These activities require considerable volumes of seaweed which are sustainably harvested from the shores of Nova Scotia, New Brunswick, and Maine. With IRAP support, ASL has also developed a world-class resource management system for which it has received several awards.
Since 1989, IRAP has collaborated on 12 projects with ASL, providing technical and financial support through the Youth Employment Program, research project funding and ongoing advisory services. IRAP and ASL have worked closely and successfully on several innovative and very different aspects of technology, quality, and new product development relating to both cultivated and wild seaweeds in the ASL portfolio. When ASL was looking to develop the next generation of edible seaweeds in 2005, the firm turned to IRAP for assistance. Similarly, ASL has partnered with IRAP for research projects aimed at identification of the active compounds in its world-class Ascophyllum nodosum seaweed extract products.
ASL has realized success with IRAP assistance
ASL has worked closely with IRAP Industrial Technology Advisor (ITA), Dr. Don Douglas, for over 12 years. Dr. Douglas’ strong background and expertise in marine algae has had a huge impact on ASL as they have been able to benefit from his scientific expertise and technical guidance and assistance in commercially strategic areas. The ITA worked with ASL to develop and manage several large research projects in areas such as understanding how to ensure sustainable harvest seaweed culture for high-value human food markets. One of the ITA’s strong influences has been providing technical guidance to identify opportunities in new and more valuable commercial areas, including seaweed products for health product markets.
"The company’s investment in research and development and the sound technical advice provided by Dr. Douglas has helped the company grow technically as well as profitably."
Jean-Paul Deveau President, Acadian Seaplants Limited
Dr. Douglas helped ASL establish new linkages and brought the Firm together with researchers at the National Research Council’s Institute for Marine Biosciences, other research institutions, and like-minded firms. Dr. Douglas also helped to strengthen relationships and interaction with key researchers at NRC and Bedford Institute of Oceanography. It is remarkable that ASL has experienced growth of nearly 100 employees between 1996 and 2010, while annual sales have grown to over $35 million. It is especially notable that IRAP has helped ASL grow from employing two technical people just over a decade ago, to 24 technical employees today (nine of whom are at the Ph.D. level) who provide the core of technical innovation in this Firm.
ASL gratefully attributes a major influence on its growth to assistance from IRAP and to Dr. Douglas, in particular. “IRAP support is playing a critical role in our success,” said Jean-Paul Deveau. “The capacity and expertise to develop and commercialize new technologies is what gives our company its sustainable competitive advantage in international export markets.”
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