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Startup turns invasive seaweed blobs into advanced biomaterials — here’s what it’s capable of

To date, Carbonwave has performed over 300 trials on the sargassum-based emulsifier and is continually expanding its network of manufacturers and suppliers.

To date, Carbonwave has performed over 300 trials on the sargassum-based emulsifier and is continually expanding its network of manufacturers and suppliers.

Photo Credit: iStock

Carbonwave, an innovative startup that transforms smelly, unsightly seaweed from the Great Atlantic Sargassum Belt into advanced biomaterials, recently hit a milestone in its development of SeaBalance, touted as the world’s first seaweed-based cosmetic emulsifier. 

As CosmeticsDesign reported, the Puerto Rico–based biomanufacturing company secured $5 million in an initial investment round in April 2023, which it planned to use on “expansion and development efforts” for SeaBalance. 

Now, after several years of fine-tuning the product and scaling up production, research by Carbonwave found that its upcycled emulsifier had better moisturization and protective skin barrier function than both natural and synthetic emulsifiers, as per CosmeticsDesign

In simple terms, that means SeaBalance helped skin retain moisture and reduce water loss more effectively than other products tested. 

It seems like the company created a winning product, as Jeff Yeh, Vice President of Personal Care, told CosmeticsDesign that the study results showed SeaBalance increases skin hydration by a “statistically significant” amount compared to the other emulsifiers. 

To date, Carbonwave has performed over 300 trials on the sargassum-based emulsifier and is continually expanding its network of manufacturers and suppliers. As CosmeticsDesign reported, the company plans on developing other versions of SeaBalance in the future to increase applications and testing options. 

Since SeaBalance first launched in 2022, it won “Best Functional Ingredient” at the in-cosmetics Global trade show that year, and 1,000 pounds have been sold for beauty product formulation, as CosmeticsDesign reported

In addition to the natural seaweed emulsifier, Carbonwave has also created other products from sargassum, including an algae fertilizer called SargaAg and vegan leather. 

As the demand for its products grows, Carbonwave hopes the cosmetics industry will continue the shift toward more environmentally conscious ingredients. 

According to the company’s blog, sargassum has always been a part of the ocean’s natural ecosystem, providing an important food source and habitat for marine animals. However, it started harming the environment about 13 years ago as scientists began noticing huge blobs of the seaweed washing up on beaches. 

As deforestation, agricultural and industrial runoff, warming temperatures, and improper water treatment continue to impact the oceans, they are creating the perfect conditions for sargassum to thrive. 

Every year, millions of tons of the brown seaweed wash up on Caribbean and Atlantic beaches, per the blog, smothering coastal environments, negatively affecting tourism, and releasing heavy metals like arsenic into the water and air that can harm health. 

Thankfully, Carbonwave is turning the environmental catastrophe into regenerative, sustainable products that can benefit the economy, reduce pollution and plastic waste, and restore ecosystems. 

According to the Carbonwave website,1 ton of wet sargassum can capture over 400 pounds of carbon, provide natural fertilizer for nearly 300 acres of land, and replace nearly 100 pounds of bioplastics.

Carbonwave aims to expand its product line in the future, with R&D for various “foams, rubber-like material, hydrogels (e.g., super absorbers for diapers or agricultural use), alginate capsules (e.g., for medications), and bioethanol” ongoing, according to its site.

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