The Kaledupa fisheries project identified carrageenan extraction from farmed seaweed as the best economic opportunity for the reef fishers of Kaledupa Island to have as a replacement income in return for surrendering their fishing licence to reduce the pressure on overfished reefs. An excellent pilot study was completed on the process needed to extract the carrageenan on site. The projected profits from such a plant would enable investors to make a healthy return on investment but still allow sufficient share ownership to be allocated to ex-fishers so that the annual dividends paid to those fisher shareholders would exceed their income from reef fishing. In addition, operating the process locally would mean that seaweed farmers can earn factory-gate as opposed to farm-gate prices, significantly increasing their income levels.
The Wakatobi Government were so impressed with the scheme they have constructed a building that can be used for the factory, in addition to allocating three hectares of land for an investor to develop the business in exchange for free use of the buildings and land. The Opwall Trust (Indonesia) has identified a number of potential investors but still need to prove the concept at a pilot plant stage. The original report was based on laboratory work in the UK, where a typical ‘run’ would involve using a two litre beaker and about 200g of raw seaweed material. The question of possible scaling-up errors was mentioned in the report. The full factory-sized plant was calculated to require 8,000 litre tanks – a four thousand-fold increase. Funding is therefore needed to build a pilot plant to prove the concept and is currently being sought.
The main consideration when building a pilot plant is to determine what needs to be tested. The laboratory work conclusively demonstrated the physico-chemical basis of the process. What is required now is assurance that the major inputs (chemicals, energy, etc) calculated earlier on a lab scale can be replicated on a significantly larger scale. If they can be shown to increase arithmetically then it would be reasonable for a potential investor to be reassured that the final, full-sized stage would follow pro-rata. Taking the above into account it is proposed to base the pilot plant on 200 litre tanks, which is a hundred-fold increase on the laboratory scale previously used and one fortieth of the proposed full-scale plant. One immediate advantage of selecting this lower size range of tank is that the inherent complications of heating and regulating the temperature of the ‘reaction’ tank are overcome. It can be electrically heated and simply requires a petrol or diesel generator. The final stage in the process is mechanically drying and milling the final product on site. To build a small milling and drying facility on site would cost a high percentage of the full plant costs but if two tonnes of wet processed carrageenan can be freighted to the UK for testing by possible suppliers of these very specialised pieces of equipment then the process can be proven without needing to invest in the actual equipment.
One point that always comes up when talking to investors is why build the plant in Kaledupa? The key advantage in building the plant locally is that instead of drying the seaweed (which is done just so you can transport the product at reasonable cost) that it could be processed wet and would be very fresh seaweed. Indeed when the dried seaweed arrives at plants in Java the first action is to increase the moisture content! The pilot plant study will be completed with wet seaweed so that the plant can claim to be processing extremely fresh produce for the carrageenan market which should give it a significant marketing advantage. The process will use freshwater, so that the only effluent from the plant will be NPK fertiliser which can then be used on agricultural land on Kaledupa to increase yields of important crops such as cassave and coconut.