The Seaweed Downstream Research Centre (SDRC) involves several local universities and government agencies and has set itself the aim of producing 10 food and 10 non-food products. It is lead by the Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM).
The SDRC has identified 11 varieties of seaweed around Malaysia’s lengthy coastline with the exploration of antioxidant potential seen as one of the major project’s major goals.
They will also look at how seaweed extracts can be used in meat products, noodles and confectionery. Non-food uses will include bio-plastic, bio-sensors and bio-fertilisers.
Dr Nazaruddin Ramli, an enzyme and bioprocess technology PhD, who works at UKM's School of Chemical Sciences and Food Technology, is the leader of the project who instigated a workshop on seaweeds from which it sprung.
Other institutions involved include Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM), Universiti Malaysia Sabah (UMS), Universiti Sains Malaysia (USM), Malaysian Agricultural Research and Development Institute (Mardi) and the Fisheries Research Institute in Batu Maung, Penang.
Ireland has a relatively developed seaweed extract industry believed to be worth about €10m but expected to double by 2013.
Examples include dried and packaged Laminaria digitata – used as a functional ingredient to combat cellulite and obesity – which can sell for €10- €16/kg for bulk quantities. Wild-sourced and dried Palmaria sold in bulk amounts fetches up to €16-19/kg.
Companies there such as Irish Seaweed Processors were looking to establish a dedicated food and nutrition business based upon macro algae while Oilean Glas Teo is researching seaweed as a functional food. Other seaweed harvesters include Marigot, which extracts a proprietary calcium/mineral blend from red seaweed called Aquamin.
The Irish government recently invested about €5m in the Marine Functional Foods Research Initiative (NutraMara), which forms part of Ireland's €365m Sea Change Strategy, itself part of Ireland's National Development Plan for 2007-2013.