Forum for Science, Industry and Business

Sponsored by:     3M 
Search our Site:

 

Algae from clogged waterways could serve as biofuels and fertilizer

25.03.2015

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.


Scientists want to turn harmful algal blooms (green, along coastline) into biofuels and fertilizers.

Credit: Jeff Schmaltz, NASA GSFC

"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.ly/ACSLiveDenver. To ask questions, sign in with a Google account.

Miller acknowledges funding from the Department of Energy, the Smithsonian Institution, Western Michigan University and StatoilHydro.

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 newsroom@acs.org.

Note to journalists: Please report that this research is being presented at a meeting of the American Chemical Society.

Follow us: Twitter | Facebook

Title

Coupling surface water remediation to sustainable energy: Toward off-grid production of algae for biofuels

Abstract

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!

More articles from Life Sciences:

nachricht Turning carbon dioxide into liquid fuel
06.08.2020 | DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

nachricht Tellurium makes the difference
06.08.2020 | Friedrich-Schiller-Universität Jena

All articles from Life Sciences >>>

The most recent press releases about innovation >>>

Die letzten 5 Focus-News des innovations-reports im Überblick:

Im Focus: ScanCut project completed: laser cutting enables more intricate plug connector designs

Scientists at the Fraunhofer Institute for Laser Technology ILT have come up with a striking new addition to contact stamping technologies in the ERDF research project ScanCut. In collaboration with industry partners from North Rhine-Westphalia, the Aachen-based team of researchers developed a hybrid manufacturing process for the laser cutting of thin-walled metal strips. This new process makes it possible to fabricate even the tiniest details of contact parts in an eco-friendly, high-precision and efficient manner.

Plug connectors are tiny and, at first glance, unremarkable – yet modern vehicles would be unable to function without them. Several thousand plug connectors...

Im Focus: New Strategy Against Osteoporosis

An international research team has found a new approach that may be able to reduce bone loss in osteoporosis and maintain bone health.

Osteoporosis is the most common age-related bone disease which affects hundreds of millions of individuals worldwide. It is estimated that one in three women...

Im Focus: AI & single-cell genomics

New software predicts cell fate

Traditional single-cell sequencing methods help to reveal insights about cellular differences and functions - but they do this with static snapshots only...

Im Focus: TU Graz Researchers synthesize nanoparticles tailored for special applications

“Core-shell” clusters pave the way for new efficient nanomaterials that make catalysts, magnetic and laser sensors or measuring devices for detecting electromagnetic radiation more efficient.

Whether in innovative high-tech materials, more powerful computer chips, pharmaceuticals or in the field of renewable energies, nanoparticles – smallest...

Im Focus: Tailored light inspired by nature

An international research team with Prof. Cornelia Denz from the Institute of Applied Physics at the University of Münster develop for the first time light fields using caustics that do not change during propagation. With the new method, the physicists cleverly exploit light structures that can be seen in rainbows or when light is transmitted through drinking glasses.

Modern applications as high resolution microsopy or micro- or nanoscale material processing require customized laser beams that do not change during...

All Focus news of the innovation-report >>>

Anzeige

Anzeige

VideoLinks
Industry & Economy
Event News

“Conference on Laser Polishing – LaP 2020”: The final touches for surfaces

23.07.2020 | Event News

Conference radar for cybersecurity

21.07.2020 | Event News

Contact Tracing Apps against COVID-19: German National Academy Leopoldina hosts international virtual panel discussion

07.07.2020 | Event News

 
Latest News

Rare Earth Elements in Norwegian Fjords?

06.08.2020 | Earth Sciences

Anode material for safe batteries with a long cycle life

06.08.2020 | Power and Electrical Engineering

Turning carbon dioxide into liquid fuel

06.08.2020 | Life Sciences

VideoLinks
Science & Research
Overview of more VideoLinks >>>