Harbor Branch macroalgae research began in the 1970s and initially focused on cultivation of seaweeds and freshwater weeds using secondary sewage effluent as a nutrient source. A primary goal of the work, supported by the U.S. Department of Energy, was maximization of biomass for fermentation by anaerobic bacteria to produce methane gas. Researchers also studied ways to optimize cultivation of macroalgae as a source of agar, a polysaccharide gum used in the medical, biotechnology and food industries; as a food or feed additive for herbivorous marine fishes and invertebrates; and as ornamental marine plants.
Nutrient uptake by macroalgae remains a research topic as FAU Harbor Branch studies land-based multi-trophic aquaculture as a means of optimizing the sustainability and output of aquaculture. In this application, macroalgae is both a system product and a consumer of wastes produced by other species in the recirculating system.