Clean water and clean fuels are two of the most pressing issues humanity faces in the coming decade, and Algae Systems may have the solution to both. Developed over the past five years, the system takes wastewater out to sea, where it is mixed and cleaned with algae, over time producing fresh water, renewable biofuel, and potent fertilizer…all at one time.
The New York Times reports that Algae Systems is headed by CEO Matthew Atwood, who is both a businessman and chemist, Algae Systems has the financial backing of the Grateful Dead’s John Perry Barlow and billionaire Edgar Bronfman Jr. What convinced these two big names to sign on with the concept of converting pond scum into oil products? The phrase “hydrothermal liquefaction” may have had something to do with it.
Before we get to that part though, first waste water is taken out to the ocean where it’s stored in bags anchored to the sea floor where a combination of sunlight and the churning movement of the waves promotes the algae growing process. Once it’s fully bloomed, the algae is scrapped off of the now-clean water, which can then be sent back to the mainland for consumer use.
The algae, meanwhile, undergoes the aforementioned hydrothermal liquefaction process, which compresses and heats the algae to up to 550 degrees Fahrenheit, turning the algae into crude oil. This oil can then be refined into gasoline, diesel, or jet fuel, a particularly promising premise that the U.S. Navy is already using to power jet fighter planes.
The third and final byproduct of this process is a potent and renewable fertilizer, and a pilot plant down in Alabama has been successfully treating 40,000 gallons of wastewater every day, producing about 3,000 gallons of usable fuel per year.
While that isn’t going to solve our climate change woes on its own, Algae Systems could play a huge part in providing both clean water and sustainable fuels to future generations.