Pia Windberg is a powerhouse - dedicated, inspired and most importantly inspiring. A very qualified marine scientist, firing away in the food and nutrition industry; partnering, learning, presenting; making changes that will benefit our planet.
Pia Windberg started her studies on seaweed 20 years ago in Stockholm Sweden. Although born in Sweden, Pia’s family immigrated to Australia when she was four, growing up in Sydney’s beach side suburbs. It was here, snorkelling in the then pristine waters, full of interesting life, sea creatures, seaweeds, that her love for the natural world and science formed.
Pia moved back to Sweden when she was 18. “I met my husband there, had children there, did my under graduate and master’s degree there, I was in Sweden 15 years. Then after our daughters, Saskia and Felicia, were born, Anders and I said, wow, it’s cold changing nappies at minus 10 degrees when you’re out with the pram. Anders had been a professional snowboarder, and he loved the idea of surfing, so we said hmm Mollymook looks good. Then we came to explore and went wow, what a great place to live.”
“We didn’t know what we could do, and thought we would have to work in the local supermarket, I thought I would be the best seafood salesperson ever. My husband was an economist, and he managed to keep his job with the Swedish Department of Education, so from his beach office he produces international school performance reports. I was able to get a PhD scholarship through the University of Wollongong and did research at Jervis Bay Marine Park.”
During that time in Jervis Bay, Pia was still keeping her eye on the seaweed and sustainable aquaculture, knowing that it was important to take the knowledge out of the university and apply it in a meaningful way. While her ultimate focus is on seaweeds carbon capturing ability and remediation projects, she is also a realist, knowing that the world may not be ready just yet for that application.
“We could capture all the carbon in the world with seaweed, but no one is going to pay us to do that. But by creating a food system that’s more sustainable at about that 5 percent level we can get the same benefit. Japanese eat 10 percent of their diet in seaweed, so there’s no reason we can’t, we’re just going to have to learn how to do it again.”
The more seaweed products that can be embraced and regularly consumed, (food, cosmetics, medical grade supplements and more) the more seaweed is grown, and the more carbon is captured, without having to sell anyone on the environmental benefits, sustainability or attracting its own funding.
“Manildra is actually a wheat refinery, but because there is so much wheat and wheat products processed there, just washing down and the waste streams from that, are just so big, that there is enough to ferment to ethanol. There is too much to compost so the best way to process it is to turn it into ethanol which is a biofuel.”
The natural waste from the wheat production is fermented into ethanol, then the nutrient rich water is used to farm the seaweed, capturing the carbon dioxide from that industry. As the seaweed production increases over time, Pia hopes to be able to capture all of the carbon from Manildra. The waste produced by the seaweed farm is clean water and oxygen. What’s more the seaweed grown is uniquely Australian.
“The types of seaweed we grow are smaller and they are green. It grows better and faster in tumbling pools, we can feed them whatever we want, not just at the mercery of what the ocean brings in and it’s purer in its culture, and provides the optimum protein and nutrient levels.”
Much of Pia’s seaweed food range is now available in limited supply (including Phetticine, Phukka, Corn Chips); cosmetics and skin care are being developed with local Shoalhaven partners; and medical grade supplements are being tested in clinical trials. Everywhere she goes her products receive applause and acclaim. Keep an eye out for Pia Windberg and her company Venus Shell Systems, she may just end up saving the world.