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  • Amy Pilsbury


Updated: Jun 23, 2020

Working with The Allen Lab to create #fertilelandfromfertileseas

The Allen Lab: home of the #SeaweedApothecary and all manner of marine experiments

During the lockdown, we have caught up with Rosie (aged 12) and Archie Allen (aged 9) from #TheAllenLab to find out a bit more about their work on plastic pollution and how this aligns with our hydrothermal processing to help remove it from our oceans.

Professor Mike Allen heads the PhycoMExUK project and also runs #TheAllenLab at home with his children Rosie and Archie.

Rosie and Archie, The Allen Lab >

They are fantastic at getting out to our local South Devon beaches to identify seaweeds and collect LOTS of samples which are used for various projects within Plymouth Marine Laboratory, University of Exeter and the University of Bath (they've been acknowledged on more papers than a lot of scientists for their hard work!). Together, they have been working on creating a #SeaweedApothecary, collecting as many different species as they can from our local shoreline. The seaweeds in the apothecary have been used for lots of things already including; screening for cosmetics, pharmaceuticals and food colourings.

The Allen Lab Seaweed Apothecary

#TheAllenLab have been collecting local Sargassum samples in partnership with PhycoMExUK, which have been sent to the University or Bath to be used in our processing trials. They have become experts in identifying species and taking in-situ time series to investigate the growth of various species. We simply couldn't do it without them!

Rosie and Archie know better than anyone that the amount of plastic washing up on our beaches is increasing, in fact, they are the inspiration behind our plastic/seaweed conversion work. After finding they were having to remove plastic from their seaweed samples, they suggested we do something about it!

Rosie: It was really sad seeing how the environment was being destroyed by people’s carelessness. We were finding plastic contaminating all of our seaweed samples, it was taking us ages to remove all the bits so Dad could take them in to the lab.

Archie: It was really fiddly removing all the plastic from the seaweed, especially with the tangly seaweeds and the strings and ropes from fisherman’s nets.

It was a simple question from Rosie that triggered a whole stream of research in itself: 'Dad, can't you just convert the plastics alongside the seaweed?'. This led to a small (and successful) grant application to the Roddenberry Foundation to test the theory of whether it could work. They fund big bold ideas that have the potential to change the world. PhycoMExUK was born and our fantastic research team assembled with both Research Council (Global Challenges Research Fund, Innovate UK and Newton Fund) and industrial backing.

Mike and Archie Allen having a look at ocean plastic

Here at PhycoMExUK, we are working to solve the Sargassum problem in Mexico by processing biomass, using HTL and HTC (find out more below!) into products which can be used in the agriculture and fuel industries.

As Rosie and Archie discovered in their local samples, plastic is increasingly becoming a problem around the world, collecting in Sargassum rafts and washing ashore. We now know that for continuous processing of seaweed to take place, our systems need to be able to cope with plastics. Thanks to Rosie and Archie's inspiration, we know our process can work. We are now investigating the conversion of lots of different plastics, of varying sizes and amounts along with the seaweed biomass to remove it from our oceans, converting it into useful products.

Nylon caught up in seaweed on a local Devon beach

We are confident that this research will prove extremely beneficial in the fight against plastic pollution in our oceans. And it all came from our little helpers at #TheAllenLab!

A massive thank you to Rosie and Archie for collecting our samples and being brilliant ocean advocates and eco-warriers.

Follow the #TheAllenLab for some great ideas for experiments with children and find out more about our work @PhycoMExUK.

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