Algae – the new/old wastewater technology

Could something tiny be the answer to one of Cape Cod’s biggest problems? January’s First Friday Breakfast speaker, Brian Braginton-Smith, thinks it might be.

Braginton-Smith is CEO of AquaGen Infrastructure Systems, Inc.  and Executive Director of the Lewis Bay Research Center, as well as being a long time Cape resident. He has seen our coastal waters decline and watched as eel grass disappeared and algae took over. While it may look like the culprit, Braginton-Smith has discovered that algae can be a big part of the solution.

Braginton-Smith says microscopic algae is what it’s all about. It was algae that turned the earth’s toxic atmosphere of methane and CO2 to oxygen, by utilizing sunlight, consuming CO2 and breathing out oxygen.

So in the beginning, algae was a good thing.

Algae is still good for removing nutrient pollutants, it’s just that we have too much nutrient load, so algae blooms have become a problem. When the algae dies, it sequesters the life in the bottom of the pond. That muck is not a natural condition.

Many of us remember the smell from Route 6 when there was a toxic event at Swan Pond in Dennis two years ago. Thousands of fish had died off, and the blue crabs all crawled out of the water. The oxygen reading there was .04 – a far cry from the amount needed to sustain life. Hydrogen sulphide (a toxic gas) was so strong it burned Braginton-Smith’s nose when he breathed.

Water Treatment
In a conventional water treatment plant, wastewater is collected and sent to a plant where bacteria is used to consume organic pollutants and nutrients. To fuel this, oxygen is supplied to microorganisms with fans, which uses a lot of energy.

Not only is the operating cost high, but air is only 21 percent oxygen. Imagine what you could do with supersaturated oxygen…

Enter the Lewis Bay Research Center algae lab photo bioreactor. When algae consumes light and nutrients, it produces oxygen, which is trapped in the water. Readings in the photo reactor showed 27.88 oxygen, which is 400% supersaturated. They couldn’t measure it to its top reading, but they think it topped out at 700%. Supersaturated with oxygen, water with algae blooms can be used to treat waste water, lowering the cost of treatment.

Based in South Yarmouth, AquaGen Infrastructure Systems, Inc. is developing sustainable algae photo bioreactor based solutions to waste water treatment and more.

The closed system of the vertical wall contains water in its supersaturated state, preventing the oxygen from entering the atmosphere. The algae that produced the oxygen is then used for many things, like bio plastics and bio fuel. According to Braginton-Smith, it’s the road to cleaner air, cleaner water, and a biotech resource with myriad options for its use.

At AquaGen, they are putting this technology to use in village infrastructure packages, where affordable housing, wastewater treatment, and low cost energy come together.

If microscopic algae can turn the planet from inhospital to what we have today, can’t it be used to help bring about a more sustainable future? They think it can.

(Learn more at AquaGen Infrastructure Systems, Inc.)

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