A Tasmanian business producing seaweed that can reduce the methane output and subsequent environmental impact of farm animals has raised $34 million in funding as it looks to capitalise on a global opportunity.
Launched in 2019 by Aussie environmentalist Sam Elsom, Sea Forest grows asparagopsis, a type of native seaweed, and converts it into animal feed supplements.
Those supplements essentially lessen the environmental damage done by the flatulent beasts, reducing the amount of methane they release and curbing some of the negative effects of farming.
The seaweed itself also draws a considerable amount of Co2 from the atmosphere, the founder explains.
Already, the business is conducting commercial trials with Australian beef, dairy and wool producers, and seeing success, Elsom says.
The funding round was oversubscribed, and included investment from the agricultural investment management arm of Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets, as well as Peter Gunn’s PGA Investments and entrepreneur and environmentalist Rob Purves, who will join the Sea Forest board.
For the most part, the capital will go towards the marine lease and the building of a new 1,800 hectare farm and processing facility, which will see the startup cultivating the plants on land and at sea.
According to Elsom, the facility will produce some 7,000 tonnes of seaweed per year, preventing about 400,000 tonnes of Co2 emissions from livestock.
No time to waste
Securing $34 million just two years into business is something of a feat. But, Elsom is an entrepreneur entirely driven by a desire to tackle climate change.
He always knew he would have to work quickly.
“That’s what we need to do environmentally,” he says.
Sea Forest has commissioned research, connected with the scientists and universities leading study in this field, and hired a team of marine farmers and experts.
The funding gives the team the capacity to continue that momentum.
It shows an appetite from the private sector to invest in businesses focused on climate change, which is promising, Elsom adds.
But, the team has also seen strong engagement from the livestock producers themselves.
“Regenerative agriculture is having a huge resurgence,” he explains.
Aussie farmers have been hit hard by bushfires, droughts and floods. They’re feeling the effects of climate change and they’re keen for solutions that can reduce their own emissions and help them become more sustainable.
A global opportunity
But, the opportunity here is not just Australian. Elsom believes there’s a global opportunity for a product like this.
He’s also not the only Aussie working on it. In September last year, startup CH4 Global, founded by a team of Australian, Kiwi and American scientists, raised $4.1 million in seed funding to scale up its own production of asparagopsis supplements.
There is a lot of research underway into native Australian seaweeds, and their potential benefits, Elsom notes. But, currently, there’s not really an agricultural seaweed industry here.
He’s hoping to be at the forefront of changing that.
Sea Forest has “unlocked the secret”, he says.
“That opens up the world.”