Monday, October 17, 2011

Using Algae to Fight Algae

Growing Algae Could Clean the Chesapeake Bay and Create Biofuel 

Probably the single biggest problem facing Chesapeake Bay is the nutrients coming into it.  The nutrients fuel an overgrowth of algae, which makes the water murky, die and sink to the bottom and cause low oxygen problems, the famous "dead zones".  One way of handling nutrients pollution is the capture the nutrients and grow something useful.

For years, people have talked about using sunlight to grow algae to produce a useful fuel.  Now a University of Maryland researcher proposes to use nutrients from farm waste and sunlight to produce ethanol and propanol as biofuels:
At the Henderson farm, the smell of muck and the sound of dribbling water surround the "algal turf scrubber" system. A solar-powered pump moves the wastewater from a nearby canal into 50-meter troughs where the algae grow.

Thin screens catch the algae. The organisms use sunlight to grow as they filter phosphorus and nitrogen out of the wastewater and add oxygen before the water trickles to the bay.

Once a week during the growing season, Kangas dons galoshes to harvest the algae. Using an old broom, he pushes the dark green globs down the to the end of the troughs. Here the algae marinates in the farm breeze, drying out until Kangas returns a week later to collect it and take it back to the lab...

"The idea is that if we have remote locations we can operate the system in areas where people aren't hanging around," said Tim Goertemiller of Living Ecosystems, an environmental consulting company, who worked on the design and production of the algal turf scrubber system.
So, who wants a green job, living in a remote area, wearing galoshes and using a broom to sweep green slime into a smelly pile? 
"We are really anxious to scale up the technology and realistically hope to operate at the acre scale next summer, hopefully with hundreds of acres within 10 years," he wrote in an email.
Good work, if you can get it. If this really had a lot of promise, they'd be talking about scaling it up to the square mile by next year.

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