Seaweed startup Immersion Group receives backing from Japanese giant Nissui

Seaweed startup Immersion Group receives backing from Japanese giant Nissui

The world's second-largest seafood producer Nissui Corporation has made a cornerstone investment in Australian seaweed startup Immersion Group, whose high-yielding onshore production capability will be lifted to supply methane-reducing feed additives to farmers domestically and in Japan.

The investment sum was undisclosed but it is understood to be worth millions of dollars, with the proceeds going towards a new seaweed production plant to be built near Geelong which is expected to be worth $3-5 million and will employ 30 people in the construction phase.

Immersion was founded in 2020 by environmental scientist Scott Elliott and University of Western Australia aquaculture expert Dr John Statton, who had worked for many years together on seagrass restoration and recognised an opportunity for the native red seaweed Asparagopsis.

Rather than focusing just on the production of this seaweed, the pair went down the R&D pathway and Dr Statton was able to secure grants totalling several million dollars. 

The onshore production system achieves exceptionally high levels of Asparagopsis production per hectare, with high levels of bromoform - a substance Elliott describes as the 'magic' ingredient in seaweed that is known to significantly reduce the production of methane in livestock when it is used as a feed additive.

Earlier this year, the startup achieved a major breakthrough by becoming a licensee for CSIRO-backed FutureFeed, which holds the global patent for the application of this specific seaweed to ruminant animals.

"We see a massive opportunity here in Australia for the dairy sector by virtue of the fact that we're located close to the largest dairy heartland of the entire country, southwest Victoria," Ellott tells Business News Australia.

"In addition to feedlots across Australia, the Nissui investment opens up the Japanese and indeed global markets for us as well, especially high-end products such as wagyu, or cheese and other dairy products, but also into feedlots hopefully throughout Japan, and we have our eye on the United States as well."

Immersion Group co-founder Scott Elliott.
Immersion Group co-founder Scott Elliott has been a business journalist, a farmer, a carbon accountant, a project manager, and is now a seaweed entrepreneur.

 

Nissui Corporation chief executive Shingo Hamada says the investment will facilitate the expansion of a new seaweed division at the group.

"We see an incredible opportunity to produce Asparagopsis, targeting premium beef markets in Australia and Japan," Hamada says.

"Nissui’s existing marketing and distribution channels present an opportunity to develop a global Asparagopsis brand with Immersion Group, capable of servicing markets worldwide."

Asparagopsis from the new production plant will be directed into supplying trials in Australia and Japan, and will complement Immersion Group's existing operations in Portarlington and Queenscliff on Victoria’s Bellarine Peninsula, and Perth in Western Australia. The company delivers its onshore work in partnership with the University of Western Australia and Deakin University.

But seaweed is not the only sustainable impact venture that Immersion Group is immersed in, sitting alongside seagrass restoration projects in Corner Inlet, Victoria near Wilsons Promontory, and Shark Bay in WA.

"We understand that for every hectare of seagrass we restore, it provides ecosystem services of in excess of $30,000 per annum, so that's everything from fishing through to recreation, Indigenous engagement, and mostly habitat, fish and other species," Elliott explains.

"It's a powerhouse; it's the rainforest of the water. John and I have been working in this space for decades now, and our decisions are based on science, harnessing the bounty of the ocean."

Given Immersion deals in marine products and has experience, capability and existing infrastructure such as boats, vessels and on-shore processing facilities, Elliott says the group is also looking to develop an export scallop fishery from Port Phillip Bay in Victoria. 

All these projects hit close to home for Elliott, who grew up on a farm in Central Victoria that got 'absolutely smashed by climate change during the Millennium drought'.

"Dad said to me, as a farmer, 'don’t make the same mistake – don’t buy a farm where it’s low rainfall, and certainly try and do something about this whole climate change thing because it’s real'," Elliott recalls.

"I’ve been a farmer, I’ve been a carbon accountant, I've been a project manager, and now I'm a seaweed entrepreneur, and throughout it all I fully understand what impact this supplement can have both for the farmer and also for the environment.

"I do it for my daughter, as I tell everybody, and hopefully she inherits something better than what we did."

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