Sustainable Utilisation of Macroalgae (Seaweed) in Indonesia

Identifying the potential in waste seaweed crops for the generation of sustainable biogas, this project aimed to equip rural farming communities with the option to produce their own energy.

Lynsey Melville working with rural fisherman in Indonesia


Research background

This project builds upon a long-standing relationship between BCU and Brawijaya University in Maland, East Java.

Around 17.7m people are living in poverty in rural Indonesia and approximately 40m people have no access to electricity. As an archipelagic country, fishing makes an important contribution to rural economies. As a means of diversifying their market, fishermen in East Java, have pioneered the cultivation of macroalgae (seaweed). A single pond can generate up to 6t of macroalgae per month and ~ 50% of this is sold to Agar industries, however the remaining waste is not used and has a negative impact on the environment. In addition, the processing of the biomass to produce products generates excessive waste. The communities and the industries they supply are keen to explore ways to utilise the macroalgae to reduce environmental impact, support new business and provide a renewable source of energy.

Previous work by BCU had shown that Macroalgae offers good potential for the production of biogas. The use waste biomass from cultivation or from processing (combined with industrial or household food and animal wastes) can improve performance and sustainability of the process. 

Research aims

  1. Enhance economic growth and social wellbeing of rural communities by developing practical approaches to converting macroalgae for the provision of energy, fertiliser and other valuable products.
  2. Through engagement/ participation with non-academic partners/ stakeholders identify socio-cultural, economic and environmental barriers and opportunities for the development/ promotion of bio-based supply chains in Indonesia.
  3. Establish a national network of stakeholders to co-create strategies and tools to support the translation of research outputs (practical approaches) into tangible economic and societal benefits.
  4. Build capacity and capability of academic teams (UK and Indonesia, particularly ECRs) through knowledge exchange, professional development opportunities and transnational experience.  Establishing a long term framework agreement between the UK and Indonesian research communities and stakeholders to enable (and focus) further collaboration and funding opportunities. 

Research outcomes

Working with partners at Brawijaya University, together with National Industry Associations the Ministry for Marine Affairs and Fisheries, and rural fishing communities, the researchers identified that between 50-80 percent of the seaweed crop goes to waste.

The research demonstrated that this waste biomass could effectively and efficiently be converted to biogas to be used in homes as well as industry, reducing the countries reliance on fossil fuels and driving a transition towards net zero.

The team’s research provided several process scenarios, as well as best practice guidelines for biomass pre-treatment. Together with national government and stakeholders, the BBRG team are now in the process of developing a biogas roadmap for the country.