Nutritional Seaweed Kit Wins Shell Ideas360 Audience Choice Award

A kit that makes nutritional supplements out of seaweed has topped a live audience vote at Shell’s global innovation competition.

AsianScientist (Jul. 21, 2016) – Seaweed: nautical nuisance or necessary nutritional supplement? The latter, it seems. Team REPiphany from Nanyang Technological University (NTU Singapore) beat almost 1,000 entries from 140 countries to win the audience choice award at Shell Ideas360, a global innovation competition, for a kit that processes seaweed into a powder supplement.

Developed by NTU students Matthew James, Nur Syazana Puteri Binte Asmuni and Ang Wei Loong, the NutriSea kit converts Sargassum seaweed, which is currently choking coastlines around the world, into a nutrition-dense powder. It is hoped that NutriSea will help alleviate ‘hidden hunger’ in communities that do not have access to essential micronutrients such as calcium and iron.

Below, James shares with Asian Scientist Magazine more about the product and the team’s plans to launch a test pilot for it in Indonesia.

  1. Why did you choose malnutrition as the subject of your project?

    We are targeting a form of malnutrition known as hidden hunger, which occurs when communities do not have access to the essential micronutrients they need. Their diets mainly consist of staples such as rice, corn and bread.

    Although often neglected, hidden hunger negatively impacts health and societal development, and ultimately, economic well-being. In fact, over a third of the world’s population suffers from hidden hunger, mostly in developing countries. Iron and zinc deficiencies affect two billion people worldwide and cause 800,000 child deaths annually.

    However, hidden hunger is not a problem as jarring or conspicuous as other forms of malnutrition, such as famine. Hence, this alarming problem has not received the attention that it deserves.

  2. How did the idea for NutriSea come about?

    NutriSea is truly a confluence of ideas. It began with Syazana and I focusing on solving the issue of hidden hunger after closely interacting with a few communities suffering from it.

    After analyzing existing attempts to tackle this issue, we found that nutrition-specific interventions were essential but we faced a roadblock in trying to seek a suitable supplement that is both low-cost and highly accessible. As fate may have it, we met Wei Loong, who spoke passionately about how the overgrowth of Sargassum seaweed is polluting coastlines around the world, destroying local ecosystems while affecting the livelihood of the locals. He wanted to do something about it, but he also did not know where to start.

    Suddenly, we had an epiphany. Why not put these two problems together to provide a synergistic solution for both? And that was how the idea of NutriSea was born.

  3. Sargassum seaweed. Credit: Sam Fraser-Smith/Flickr/CC
    Sargassum seaweed. Credit: Sam Fraser-Smith/Flickr/CC

  4. How does NutriSea convert seaweed into nutritional supplements?

    We plan to provide each coastal community with a NutriSea kit so that they may process this ecological waste into a nutritious food supplement in their own backyard. Each kit can produce 6 kg of seaweed powder a day, which can serve 600 individuals—10 g of seaweed powder added to rice or soup is enough for each person meet their daily essential micronutrient requirements.

    The NutriSea kit is designed to be simple to use, requiring minimal maintenance and no external power sources. The general idea is to make the process as simple and intuitive as possible.

    Each kit consists of 12 multi-purpose cages and a solar dehydrator. The multi-purpose cages allow users to collect, wash and grind the seaweed, all in one. The solar dehydrator uses the greenhouse effect to dry the seaweed, preparing it for grinding. Upon reaching an optimal temperature of 60°C, which will kill pathogens in the seaweed, the heat indicator will turn green, showing that the dried seaweed is now safe for consumption. Air vents use convective airflow to dry the seaweed in less than ten hours. The final step uses a corrugated grater at the base of the cage to produce seaweed powder. NEXT PAGE >>>

Coming from a design background, Filzah brings a fresh perspective to science communications. She is particularly interested in healthcare and technology.

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