He's a farmer of sorts, but not in the traditional sense.
Tim Vici, of Sequim, doesn't sow seeds, till land or raise livestock.
He grows seaweed or sea vegetables as he calls them.
"I am very passionate about aquaculture and farming sea veggies," Vici said, standing in his newly constructed greenhouse just northeast of Sequim.
"The potential is virtually endless. They can be part of an incredibly healthy diet, they are used in hundreds, if not thousands, of proprietary products like vitamins, soaps and pharmaceuticals and many believe they are the future in energy independence."
Vici grew a variety of marine plants when he was working on a pilot project with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association and he is taking that experience to the next level in the Sequim-Dungeness Valley.
"Sequim is the perfect place for this type of propagation," Vici said. "There is a good supply of sunshine and it really has a very mild climate, which is great for what I'm trying to do."
Vici's 14 tanks make his greenhouse look more like a bathhouse for marine plants.
The tanks are not filled yet but will be soon with plants including the bumpy Turkish towel, the bladed kelp, the bubbly ipo plants and many more, including porphyra, which is used in nori for sushi rolls. Eventually his edible sea vegetables will give him an income and reputation to begin growing fuel-quality algae.
Vici's journey into aquaculture began when he decided he no longer wanted to be a marine fisheries biologist.
"I tracked the death species and the degradation of habitat for 16 years and realized that instead of tracking the problems, I needed to start working on solutions," Vici said.
"Little did I know I would embark into the study of growing seaweed while figuring out we can bioremediate, or clean, dirty or eutrophic water, grow a nutritious food source and be able to create power sustainably."
To Vici it doesn't make sense to use an established food source, such as corn, to use as fuel.
"Our food is getting more expensive, our energy is getting more expensive and yet I'm able to grow energy-rich plants with virtually no footprint on the ocean, the land and the environment," he said. "I truly believe this is the future and if this project is successful in Sequim, it will be one of only a handful of places at the forefront of the technology."
But before Vici can move toward energy, he needs to finish his eatable project first through his company Umami Sea Vegetables. Umami means delicious in Japanese.
Some species of sea vegetables contain 25 times the amount of iron and 10 times the
amount of calcium as beef, according to Vici.
"While many people may shy away from the thought of taking a bite out of some seaweed, they may not realize they probably already do on a daily basis," Vici said, indicating if not through ingestion then by application. "It's like the aloe vera of the sea, used in soap, oils and other body products."
Vici is lining up potential buyers of the varied species he will begin growing by 2009. He's also received help on the business end from the Incubator at Lincoln Center in Port Angeles and the Clallam Economic Development Council.
"(Umami) and its leadership are true entrepreneurs. They have taken innovative technologies and are bringing them to the marketplace," said Jim Haguewood, Incubator director.
Vici's sea vegetables may be available fresh in local markets as well as through large firms that will use the plants in their products.
But the edible plants are only phase one.
"Once this project is up and going, I will more actively explore connections with agencies and investors to do energy and fuel production," Vici said, indicating he's been operating under a tight budget and may need to find investors soon.
Rather than larger, edible seaweeds called macroalgae, Vici is likely to use smaller sized marine life to create energy. They are called microalgae.
"I've grown samples of microalgae for a scientist that was creating a bio jet fuel for Boeing," he said. "Imagine being able to grow your energy in tanks that can create microalgae year-round with specific lighting and temperature conditions that are powered by the plants you are growing."
"This is what I was searching for when I left my fisheries biologist life behind."
Aside from producing fuels that burn cleaner than petroleum-based products, Vici sees seaweed as a way to clean up the damage that's already been done.
"At the NOAA project, I was cleaning about 96,000 gallons of water a day. These little guys are pervasive and change
pollution into usable plant material," he said. "The options around me here and in the sound are endless."
He is positioned next to the Maple View Farm dairy operation, the city of Sequim wastewater treatment plant and Sequim Bay.
"I need the waste to make these guys grow and this area needs waste taken out of the water before it goes back out to serve aquatic life," Vici said.
"I believe that we can make an energy shift in this country and with Obama headed to the White House talking about alternative energy sources, I see my government behind me."
Vici isn't the only one in the valley to be working with algae-based fuels. Battelle's Sequim lab has been doing research on the topic for years.
"I hope we can work together," Vici said. "One thing that distinguishes me from that is I will be a farmer. I can provide the stock to make these ideas a reality."
From one metric ton of microalgae, 20 kiloliters of methane can be collected. That methane could provide for electrical generation of 10 kilowatts an hour and methane is but one biofuel known to come from those green, slimy marine plants.
"It's green gold instead of black gold," Vici said.
Possible products to be made from microalgae at Sequim's Umami Sea Vegetables include:
• Diesel fuel
• Jet fuel
• Biodegradable plastics
• Omega 3 and 6 oils
• Nutritional, vitamin,
Possible products to be made from macroalgae at Sequim's Umami Sea
• Compressed natural gas
• Polymers, plastics
• Hydrogen for fuel cells
• Pharmaceutical, food
• Plant fertilizers
• Nutritional, vitamin, dietary
The Sequim Gazette is located at 147 W. Washington Street in Sequim.
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