Kelp me Rhonda

Fueled by abnormally large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorus, algal blooms create a microclimate that is toxic to humans and animals. Recent innovation in biofuel technology utilizes algae and wastewater, producing energy 10 to 100 times more effectively than traditional bioenergy feedstocks.

Algal blooms made headlines throughout 2016, most notably in Utah Lake and Lake Erie where toxic algae left 400,000 people without clean water for two days. Fed by abnormally large quantities of nitrogen and phosphorous from fertilizer and wastewater runoff and fueled by increasingly warmer summers from climate change, such overgrown algae can cause health problems in humans and animals, affect tourism, and limit agriculture.

Recent innovations, however, suggest that wastewater and algae growth can be amalgamated into a profitable renewable energy process. Algae is the building block of a biofuel which leaves clean water and organic agricultural fertilizer in its wake. With its fast growth rate and oil-rich content, research suggests that this algae-to-fuel conversion is 10 to 100 times more productive than traditional bioenergy feedstocks.

Algae Systems is a Nevada-based company that uses this process. Wastewater (sewage) is used to fertilize a bed of algae which is then converted to diesel fuel, leaving behind potable water and a carbon-heavy fertilizer. This technology is based on hydrothermal liquefaction which heats algae and wastewater to upwards of 550 degrees Fahrenheit.

The United Nations estimates that 1.8 billion people will live in areas of water-scarcity and two-thirds of the world’s population will live in areas of water stress (areas where the demand for water exceeds the available amount) by 2025 so treating wastewater is an advantageous method of conservation. Yet, on average, high-income countries treat only 70% of their generated wastewater (North America treats 75%) while low-income countries treat barely 8%. Technology that uses wastewater as an energy resource may not only benefit the economy but the local population as well.

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