Water-borne algal blooms from farm fertilizer runoff can destroy aquatic life and clog rivers and lakes, but scientists will report today that they are working on a way to clean up these environmental scourges and turn them into useful products. The algae could serve as a feedstock for biofuels, and the feedstock leftovers could be recycled back into farm soil nutrients.
A multi-pronged nutrient bio-remediation system is the goal of a team of scientists who will present their research at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS), the world's largest scientific society. The meeting, which takes place here through Thursday, features nearly 11,000 presentations on a wide range of science topics.
"I grew up on a farm, and I know firsthand the needs of small-scale farmers, as well as the problems posed by algal blooms," says John B. Miller, Ph.D. "But I am also a chemist, so I see an upside with algae."
Algae can range in size from a single cell to large seaweeds. They only need water, sunlight and a source of nutrients to grow. But with a boost from high levels of man-made nutrients -- particularly nitrogen and phosphorus from farm runoff -- the growth springs out of control. They form clumps called algal blooms that can be directly toxic to fish and other aquatic life. The blooms also can draw oxygen from the water, creating dead zones, where most life cannot exist.
But Miller and his team at Western Michigan University envision a solution to problematic algal blooms, which can benefit small-scale farmers. Already, algae are gradually but increasingly being used as a feedstock for different classes of biofuels, including ethanol. It grows very quickly -- some two to eight times faster than similar land-based ethanol feedstocks, such as corn, soybeans or cellulosic biomass -- which is an advantage.
Large-scale, centralized "algal turf scrubber" operations in Florida and elsewhere are getting underway and are growing natural communities of periphytic or attached algae for biofuel production. Miller is building on this approach but will downsize it to water bodies near small farms throughout the U.S.
"For small farm applications, the system must be easy to operate, nearly automatic and be suitable for diffuse installations," he says. "So, my focus has been to apply this technology without requiring the large infrastructure of the electric grid, large pumping installations and all the rest that is needed for centralized operations. A farmer won't have time to check an algae collection and processing system, so it has to also be able to operate remotely."
Currently, the team is exploring different substrates to optimize algae growth in water bodies. By using 3-D printing technologies, the researchers engineer substrates to provide different geometric features that foster growth of algal blooms. They are testing these first in the laboratory before analyzing them out in the field. Also, they are investigating different options for collection techniques that will be more appropriate for small, remote locations.
Miller points out that the algae can be used for biofuel feedstock, making a profit for the farmers. And the waste left over after the biofuel's fermentation and distillation steps is high in nutrients and carbohydrates, which is a material that can be recycled back to farm fields for use as an organic fertilizer.
It may take a while to get the system up and running at farms, but Miller says that there is a powerful economic incentive for farmers to sign on. That's because it has the potential to shift problematic algae into biofuels, taking a farm-based ecological problem and turning it into a revenue stream for small-scale farmers, he says.
A press conference on this topic will be held Wednesday, March 25, at 9 a.m. Mountain time in the Colorado Convention Center. Reporters may check-in at Room 104 in person, or watch live on YouTube http://bit.
The American Chemical Society is a nonprofit organization chartered by the U.S. Congress. With more than 158,000 members, ACS is the world's largest scientific society and a global leader in providing access to chemistry-related research through its multiple databases, peer-reviewed journals and scientific conferences. Its main offices are in Washington, D.C., and Columbus, Ohio.
To automatically receive news releases from the American Chemical Society, contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
Note to journalists: Please report that this research is being presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.
Coupling surface water remediation to sustainable energy: Toward off-grid production of algae for biofuels
Excess nutrients from agricultural inputs have been implicated in large algal blooms in the Great Lakes and elsewhere, resulting in degraded water quality with subsequent consequences. Reduction of the nutrient load into large water bodies depends on reduction of nutrient outflows from surrounding drainage basins. Modern farming techniques reduce fertilizer application rates and limit the effects of major erosive events, but even small, adventitious excesses accumulate over an entire watershed. To reduce nutrient loads in surface waters beyond what conservation measures can achieve may require treatment. On a watershed scale, this can be accomplished by treating very large volumes with a few localized facilities, or treating small volumes with many distributed facilities. Nutrient scrubbers based on periphyton communities, so-called algal turfs, have proven to be an effective technique for absorbing nutrients from surface waters in several locations. The turf can be easily harvested, and the lignin-free carbohydrates in the turf used to produce fermented biofuels. The residual material left after fuel production contains the bulk of the nutrients absorbed by the algal turf, and is an effective fertilizer. This work examines the links between nutrient capture and bio-energy production using algal turfs, focusing on methods that are appropriate for distributed, small-scale installations. Particular attention is paid to concerns for remote or unattended operation in locations without access to a power grid.
Michael Bernstein | EurekAlert!
Researchers uncover protein-based “cancer signature”
05.12.2016 | Universität Basel
The Nagoya Protocol Creates Disadvantages for Many Countries when Applied to Microorganisms
05.12.2016 | Leibniz-Institut DSMZ-Deutsche Sammlung von Mikroorganismen und Zellkulturen GmbH
Have you ever wondered how you see the world? Vision is about photons of light, which are packets of energy, interacting with the atoms or molecules in what...
A multi-institutional research collaboration has created a novel approach for fabricating three-dimensional micro-optics through the shape-defined formation of porous silicon (PSi), with broad impacts in integrated optoelectronics, imaging, and photovoltaics.
Working with colleagues at Stanford and The Dow Chemical Company, researchers at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign fabricated 3-D birefringent...
In experiments with magnetic atoms conducted at extremely low temperatures, scientists have demonstrated a unique phase of matter: The atoms form a new type of quantum liquid or quantum droplet state. These so called quantum droplets may preserve their form in absence of external confinement because of quantum effects. The joint team of experimental physicists from Innsbruck and theoretical physicists from Hannover report on their findings in the journal Physical Review X.
“Our Quantum droplets are in the gas phase but they still drop like a rock,” explains experimental physicist Francesca Ferlaino when talking about the...
The Max Planck Institute for Physics (MPP) is opening up a new research field. A workshop from November 21 - 22, 2016 will mark the start of activities for an innovative axion experiment. Axions are still only purely hypothetical particles. Their detection could solve two fundamental problems in particle physics: What dark matter consists of and why it has not yet been possible to directly observe a CP violation for the strong interaction.
The “MADMAX” project is the MPP’s commitment to axion research. Axions are so far only a theoretical prediction and are difficult to detect: on the one hand,...
Broadband rotational spectroscopy unravels structural reshaping of isolated molecules in the gas phase to accommodate water
In two recent publications in the Journal of Chemical Physics and in the Journal of Physical Chemistry Letters, researchers around Melanie Schnell from the Max...
16.11.2016 | Event News
01.11.2016 | Event News
14.10.2016 | Event News
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering
05.12.2016 | Materials Sciences
05.12.2016 | Power and Electrical Engineering