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Valderrama assessing ecosystem services associated with kelp aquaculture development


Photo of kelp by Shane Stagner on Unsplash
Photo by Shane Stagner on Unsplash

Diego Valderrama, Term Assistant Professor, Environmental Science and Policy, is conducting a comprehensive economic assessment of the ecosystem services (e.g., nutrient bioremediation and carbon offsetting) provided by the emerging kelp aquaculture industry in the United States, including strategies for monetization of these services. 

 Kelp aquaculture is the cultivation of kelp for food, dietary supplements, or other commercial uses, including biofuels. Although global seaweed aquaculture production increased from 10.6 million tons in 2000 to 34.7 million tons in 2019, almost 90 percent of those farms are located in Asia. Domestic seaweed farming production is on the rise but it is still far from achieving the economies of scale that are required to compete in a market dominated by imports. 

Valderrama will develop a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) model — a standardized methodology for assessing environmental impacts associated with all the stages of the life cycle of a commercial product, process, or service — for the kelp aquaculture industry. This model will serve as the foundationfor an economic analysis of the ecosystem services flowing from seaweed farms such as CO2 and nutrient pollution removal. Monetization of these services will assist U.S. farmers in their efforts to ensure the commercial viability of their operations. The project is also expected to generate valuable information in support of research programs at the Department of Energy currently examining the potential of seaweed-based biofuels as a sustainable source of renewable energy for the United States. 

Valderrama received $144,010 from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration for this project. Funding began in December 2020 and will end in November 2023.