Toward Off-Grid Production and Processing of Algae for Sustainable Energy and Environmental Remediation

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Two of the challenges faced by our increasingly urbanized society are a need for a sustainable energy supply and a deterioration of the environment, particularly water quality. We can use algae to address these two problems simultaneously, since algae grown in over-nutrified water contains significant carbohydrate content that can be fermented into biofuels, and the algae absorbs the nutrients from the water as it grows.

An off-grid approach to growing and processing benthic algal “turfs” was investigated. A variety of growth substrates with two-dimensional (2D) and three-dimensional(3D) geometries were deployed into shallow “floway” and deeper “in-water” environments. Native algal turf communities were cultivated on the substrates from the eutrophic water of an urban campus pond. The algal biomass was periodically harvested and dried using thermal solar driers powered by solar photovoltaic power. A comparison of biomass yields from the different substrates and growth conditions confirm previous preliminary observations that cultivation on 3D substrates improves overall biomass production. Solar drying experiments provided guidelines for scaling the solar power inputs for future installations and informed future development of a mechanized harvester.

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