12 April 2010

Slimy Green Solutions: One Town's Algae Adventure

Many have said that while the world is focusing on the climate crisis, another dangerous situation is brewing right underneath our noses: the water crisis.

Between pollution from industrial development and excessive consumption, the world's supply of clean, fresh water for human use is dwindling, and while we scramble to come up with conservation methods that people will actually use, some are looking to nature itself for the answer.

In Hopewell, Va., city officials recently voted to implement a cost-saving approach to nutrient removal that is green: literally.

For the next nine months, algae will be used to clean nitrogen from wastewater in the town instead of conventionally engineered solutions, reports the Progressive-Index.com.

The company responsible for conducting this exciting experiment is AlgaeWheel, an Indianapolis company whose founders were inspired by nature's ability to develop the efficient cycles necessary to maintain aquatic life.

From the AlgaeWheel website:

Algae can metabolize sewage far more rapidly than bacterial treatment. Treatment is more complete and more rapid since bacteriological treatment is a process of decay whereas algae treatment is one of conversion of organic matter to live, healthy plant life.

Current bacteriological treatment plants discharge nitrates, phosphates, sulfates, etc. into a natural body of water for dilution and continued treatment by naturally occurring plant and animal life. It is recognized that nutrients in treated effluent water have increasingly become a problem because they cause an increase in the amount of algae in our lakes and streams.

In addition to causing fewer greenhouse gas emissions and using far less energy than traditional solutions for combating nitrogen river environments, the Hopewell officials are pleased to announce that the AlgaeWheel experiment will ultimately save tax payers money on their sewage rates. Implementation of conventional methods for nitrogen removal from wastewater would have cost the City and residents upwards of $90 million.

As an added benefit, the city reports that bio-fuel and "green coal" will be produced from algae residue, creating a revenue stream for the area.

The plant’s first algae unit currently treats 30 million gallons of wastewater daily. A second new unit will process about 100,000 gallons daily, reported Progress-Index. The city has applied for federal stimulus grants to pay for both units, according to the article.
The U.S. Departments of Energy and Agriculture recently selected 19 biorefinery projects, including an algae project, to receive up to $564 million from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act

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