The History of Alginate Chemistry


Alginate is a structural polymer that is found in the cell walls of brown marine algae, more commonly known as seaweeds and is also produced by some bacteria. Alginate is a linear co-polymer of β-D-Mannuronic acid and α-L-Guluronic acid.

Alginate is widely used as a viscosifying, gelling & stabilizing agent in food, also in pharmaceuticals and for stabilizing & sizing in textiles, paper & printing. Currently, the global usage of alginate in food alone is estimated to be around 26,000 tonnes at a value of US$705 million (IMR 2023).

This article describes how alginate was discovered, how the structure was elucidated (starting with Stanford in the 1880’s) and early commercial development in the 1930’s. Initially, the technology of alginate production was controlled by a small number of western companies. The major players being Kelco, Protan & Fagertun and Mero Rousselot-Satia (Paul, 1986) however, this has changed dramatically in subsequent years.

Photo of harvested stipes of Laminaria hyperborea, a commercial source of alginate (Courtesy of C. Hepburn).

This History of Alginate Chemistry article has additional information on alginate structure, production and bacterial alginate which can be accessed using the forward arrows in the Further Reading box or by downloading the pdf here.

Further Reading

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