BIOGEARS in the news: interview with Leire Arantzamendi in HITZA (Basque newspaper)

Published 12/11/2021

Read the recent interview with Leire Arantzamendi, the coordinator of BIOGEARS project, which is developing biobased ropes useful in offshore mussel and algae aquaculture. These ropes are an important step towards a greener aquaculture industry. This article was published originally in the Basque Newspaper HITZA and can be accessed here

Leire Arantzamendi, Project coordinator and AZTI‘s marine and coastal environmental management specialist.

What is the basis of the BIOGEARS project?

In recent years, projects related to marine litter have been emerging around aquaculture. The problem of plastics and microplastics is global and also affects aquaculture. At AZTI, we have been working to solve it through projects based on marine litter, such as the Bluenet Project. The aim of this initiative is to give a new use to marine litter, for example, the collection and conditioning of existing nets in the sea for mussel farming. At BIOGEARS we want to find sustainable materials beyond the usual plastics for use in offshore aquaculture, derived from natural resources and that generate less environmental impact in order to develop a more sustainable aquaculture.

What are these ropes like?

They are special ropes and the development process has been long. Gaiker and Itsaskorda are accompanying us in the project. Our challenge to make aquaculture even more sustainable was to find new materials. So we have gone a step further and found new materials or biomaterials to make these ropes. They are biodegradable, but not in the sea. Our aim is not to make the ropes biodegradable in the sea, as they also need resistance. Our intention is that when the end of the use of these ropes comes, we can bring them ashore and make them compostable, creating a circular economy.

This study aims to lay the foundations for the development of sustainable and circular aquaculture.

Where are you now in the project?

We have carried out a selection of material and a market study to find out how many metres of rope are currently used in aquaculture. We have also carried out a couple of surveys aimed at the sector and consumers to see what the acceptance of these new ropes would be. In short, this study aims to lay the foundations for the development of sustainable and circular aquaculture. We could compost the ropes or re-split and create bioplastics to be reused in different ways in different sectors. Thus, as products we can obtain seafood or remanufacture of ropes for aquaculture. Our aim is to create a local circular economy. In other words, to create local blue labs or so-called Blue Labs, and that the new businesses that may emerge in this respect or the whole circular economy will be local, extending this model to European regions and countries.

What would make up these Blue Labs?

The production companies, the research and administration sectors and the education sector. If we want to achieve sustainable aquaculture that benefits everyone, both society and the economy, we must all be connected in this innovative network that we call Blue Labs.

How has the project been received?

We have had a good relationship with the institutions: the companies that carry out research, those that produce algae or material have used few biodegradable materials or biomaterials in marine applications. The biomaterials used so far have been natural fibres, very biodegradable in the sea. But if we need a rope for mussel farming in the sea, it cannot degrade in a fortnight or a year. We have come up with a rope that does not degrade in the sea and is functional for growth. Bacteria, the sea energy, solar radiation… Taking all these factors into account, you have to get a solid and functional product, and that’s what we are working on.

How do you demonstrate the strength of these ropes?

We seeded the mussels on the ropes and deployed them suspended in a raft in Mutriku on 15 June and we will soon take them to the experimental offshore area in Mendexa where AZTI has an experimental long-line. We want to see how they respond in environments of different energy, in a sheltered area or in the open ocean. We have manufactured two rope prototypes of different compositions, with different biomaterials, biodegradable and non-toxic. Thanks to the know-how of AZTI, GAIKER and ITSASKORDA, ropes suitable for cultivation have been developed. In previous projects we tested five different ropes for mussel offshore culture, and the most efficient one was selected. Thus, we have manufactured biobased rope prototypes with similar mechanical characteristics, using the manufacturing process of the commercial counterparts.

How long will the mussels be on the ropes?

A year and a half in case of mussel, and in parallel we will start with the seaweed cultivation. Seaweed will be first cultured in a nursery inland and when they are sufficiently grown-out they will be moved to the raft and to the longline. Our aim is also to move technically towards more sustainable growth. In this way, we will place algae and mussels together, as a multi-trophic culture. This form of cultivation is also circular; the waste of the mussels will be used as nutrients by the algae. This way we make the growth itself more sustainable, achieving a circular use of nutrients.

Has this type of farming been done before?

In the Basque Country, the BIOGEARS project will be a pioneer in producing and testing ropes manufactured with biomaterials, in mussel and algae offshore farming. We have produced two rope prototypes for the algae, to be used in different cultivation phases. They are made of the same material, although with different diameters. In the end we have made two prototypes for mussels and four for seaweed. In addition, we are now going to give the project a third turn. We have started some sea test in another countries, as in a seaweed company in Plymouth (United Kingdom) with different algae species.

Are you in contact with any other international locations?

Yes we are in contact with seaweed conpanies form Alaska, the APROMAR association in Spain, also risen the interest of the fishing sector in Azores have also been in contact, and more, as biobased ropes can have multiple applications and we can see that there is a need in the market for these solutions.

Source: Eider Mugartegi, HITZA

Last edited 12/11/2021

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