Powering a Blue Economy
Breaking free of constraints of land and fresh water, Sea6 Energy is using engineering and biotech to create a paradigm change in an ocean-based ‘blue’ economy. Its proprietary products hold the potential to generate solar energy, desalinate water, provide habitation, and grow crops in the wild blue yonder, finds out Sandhya Mendonca.
As oceans comprise 71 percent of the earth’s surface, the scope for growth is colossal, and the team is quite naturally excited by the ‘once-in-a-lifetime’ opportunity that is unravelling for it as it explores the vast coastline of India.
Sea6 Energy’s story is peppered with serendipitous discoveries; its founding team came together at the Indian Institute of Technology Madras, when Sri Sailaja Nori, Sowmya Balendiran and Nelson Vadassery, became the first Indian team to win a silver medal in MIT’s iGEM competition in 2009. Visiting faculty and biotechnology veteran Shrikumar Suryanarayan (Shri) saw potential in their research to use biotech to solve India’s energy needs, and the four founded the company over a cup of coffee in the campus. Moving to the bio-cluster at C-CAMP in Bengaluru, it got access to the talent at NCBS and UAS.
Despite the successful production of biofuel in labs, Sea6 faced the challenge of scalability as the availability of biomass was limited. This is when it turned to the ocean. A eureka moment happened during the process of producing biofuels from tropical red seaplants, when the team realised that these plants could become the starting material for many biological products.
After getting into contract farming with the fishing community along the coast of Tamil Nadu in south India, to source raw material, Sea6 created ocean structures to manage the farms. It has developed Dweep, an artificial floating island system, designed to survive in the harshest of ocean conditions. Combining several Dweeps could create artificial land of several hectares in the ocean and they could be used for a wide range of applications like solar power generation, farming with hydroponics technology, deep sea aquaculture, offshore desalination unit and for developing houses and hotels.
Shri illustrates the possibilities with an example: A small island, much sought after as a tourist destination like Maldives currently flies in every resource, including water, to cater to the plane loads of vacationers. The use of ‘dweeps’ would change the very nature of the island economy, while solving the problem of pollution.
Sea6’s other product, currently being used in Bali,Indonesia, is the Sea Combine, a seaweed harvester that helps industrial production of the seaplant needed for manufacture of various products. Its product range includes plant bio-stimulants and immunostimulants for use in agriculture, animal feed, organic food pigments, bioplastics and biofuels.
It consciously works on reducing the over-usage of chemical agri-inputs. Its products like AgroGain (bio-stimulant) and TomaTough (crop antiviral), are organic, natural and high quality agri-inputs that help plants to inherently produce hormones that enhance quality and yield. Its agri-input products are used by 1 million farmers in India and will be soon available globally.
Sea6 has received many awards like Emerging Company of the Year, Top Upcoming Life-Sciences Startups in India and recognitions as the Finalist in the Best Biological Product category at Agrow Awards.