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Clean Water And Clean Power Through Algae

It’s an entire cycle where you’re dealing with not only a water pollution problem.

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biodiesel from microalgae
A biochemist shows different types of microalgae for the study and manufacture of a biofuel in high displacement diesel engines for reducing emissions of gases and particulate matter in Santiago, Chile. VOA

“Nature sometimes isn’t pretty,” said University of Maryland environmental scientist Peter May, grabbing a clump of slimy green-brown gunk.

That gunk lines the bottom of what’s called an algal turf scrubber at the Port of Baltimore. The meter-wide, shallow channel runs the length of a football field alongside one of the port’s giant parking lots.

“Actually, it’s always pretty,” May corrected himself. Even the gunk. Because that gunk is removing pollution from the Chesapeake Bay. Plus, May’s colleagues are turning it into clean, renewable electricity.

The Chesapeake needs the help.

Algal feast

Like many waterways around the world, the bay is polluted with excess nutrients from farm fertilizer runoff, city wastewater and other sources. Algae feast on those nutrients, triggering massive growth that chokes out other aquatic life. Last summer, algal growth left an average of 4.6 cubic kilometers of the bay without oxygen.

A third of the pollution reaching the bay literally falls out of the sky.

Fossil fuels burned in power plants, cars and elsewhere create nitrogen oxide air pollution, which ultimately ends up in the bay, either attached to airborne particles or dissolved in rainwater.

Forests would soak up that pollution. But like many urban areas, the Port of Baltimore has a pavement problem. There’s not a tree to be found at the entire 230-hectare Dundalk Marine Terminal, where the algae scrubber is located.

So regulators require the port to remove as much pollution from the bay as its parking lots allow in. That’s where the algal turf scrubber comes in.

Algae
Algae is seen near the City of Toledo water intake crib, Aug. 3, 2014, in Lake Erie, about 2.5 miles off the shore of Curtice, Ohio. VOA

Putting algae to work

The scrubber is like “a controlled algal bloom on land,” May said, “which puts the algae to work pulling nutrients out of the water.”

The city of Durham, N.C., is planning to build another scrubber to clean up a local reservoir. A pilot study found it would cost about half as much as typical pollution control measures, such as constructed wetlands, and much less than retrofitting existing systems. Others are up and running in Florida.

The algal turf scrubber creates one big challenge, May said.

“What do we do with that algae? You have to have an end use or else you’re going to pile that algae up very quickly,” he said.

It’s high in protein and omega-3 fatty acids. It’s been turned into animal feed. It can be fermented into biofuels. Some of May’s colleagues have used it to launch a fertilizer business.

But here at the Port of Baltimore, they’re turning it into electricity.

Baltimore, Algae
Containers are unloaded from a ship at the Port of Baltimore, Oct. 24, 2016. The port uses an algae scrubber to remove pollution from the Chesapeake Bay. VOA

Digesting for power

May works with University of Maryland colleague Stephanie Lansing, an expert in a process called anaerobic digestion. It’s not much different from our own digestion.

“You have bacteria in your gut that break down food. We’re doing that same process in an anaerobic digester,” Lansing said. “We’re breaking down the material, and we’re producing energy in the process.”

In this case, the microbes digesting the algae produce methane biogas. The biogas runs a fuel cell.

“The fuel cell is actually a very efficient way to use the energy,” she said. This small, pilot system produces a modest amount of electricity.

Also Read: India’s Floating Solar Panel a Gateway To Clean Energy For Asia

“You can use it to charge batteries. You can use it for lights. You can use it for fans,” she added.

The Port of Baltimore plans to build a larger system that will cover about a third of a hectare, which could produce a few hundred kilowatts — still modest, but not bad, when you start with just polluted water and algae.

“It’s an entire cycle where you’re dealing with not only a water pollution problem, but an air pollution issue,” Lansing said. (VOA)

Next Story

Coal-Fired Power to Remain Main Source of Energy for Next Decade Despite Renewable Push

Accordingly, the total coal requirement would increase from 698 MT for 2019-20 to 877 MT during 2026-27

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Coal, Power, Energy
The capacity of coal based generation would increase from the current about 195 gigawatt (GW) to 238 GW by March, 2027. Pixabay

Even as the government continues its push for renewables, coal-fired power is expected to remain the main source of energy for the next decade or so, Power and New and Renewable Energy Minister R.K. Singh said on Tuesday.

The capacity of coal based generation would increase from the current about 195 gigawatt (GW) to 238 GW by March, 2027.

“Accordingly, the total coal requirement would increase from 698 MT for 2019-20 to 877 MT during 2026-27,” Singh said in a written reply to the Rajya Sabha.

As there is a already shortage in coal supply, the government needs to raise production to meet the needs of thermal power plants.

Coal, Power, Energy
Even as the government continues its push for renewables, coal-fired power is expected to remain the main source of energy for the next decade or so. Pixabay

“Besides meeting the present deficit in coal supply to power sector, Coal India Limited (CIL) may enhance its production to meet the growing requirement of the power sector,” the Minister said.

As per the National Electricity Plan (2018), the share of electricity generated from coal-based power plants is likely to be 64 per cent at the end of 2021-22. Its share is projected to further come down to 58 per cent by 2026-27 from the current level of 72 per cent.

“The reduction of share of coal-based generation in the total generation over the period would be mainly due to addition of renewable energy,” the Power Minister said.

The government has taken a slew of measures to expand installed capacity through renewable energy sources. They include waiver of inter-state transmission system (ISTS) charges and losses for inter-state sale of solar and wind power for projects to be commissioned up to March 2022.

Also Read- Assam government relaxes restrictions on cultivation of scented Agar tree

Foreign direct investment (FDI) up to 100 per cent under the automatic route has also been allowed. The Centre has set a target of installing 175 GW of renewable energy capacity by March, 2022. (IANS)