Algal Turf Scrubbing
SUMMARY: Algal Turf Scrubbing generates a fast growing, easily harvested, filamentous polyculture of hundreds of natural, locally adapted algae species over a new, highly efficient 3D screen surface beneath a shallow flow of water to oxygenate and purify water, produce biomass for biofuel and organic fertilizer, mitigate pollution from agricultural run-off, improve freshwater and coastal habitats, and sequester carbon and reduce fossil fuel dependency.
PROBLEM SPACE: Human CO2 emissions alter the climate and acidify the oceans. Our high-productivity agriculture requires immense amounts of fossil fuels, pollutes rivers and oceans with nutrient runoff, destroys soil fertility, and depletes sources of mineral fertilizers. Our industrial manufacturing is polluting the world with heavy metals and thousands of organic pollutants. Many of the mitigation practices so far proposed or employed to counter these looming disasters are either too expensive to implement globally, or require the use of high-density energy or finite resources that would blunt their impact if deployed at a large scale. While efforts to persuade or require people to reduce their environmental impacts are laudable and necessary, even a sudden, complete switch to a completely green civilization would require from centuries to millennia for natural processes to return our ecosystems to their original functionality; positive large-scale interventions are thus necessary even in the best case. ATS is a solar-powered self-replicating CO2-sequestering water-cleaning biomass generator that, unlike previous solutions, can affordably be deployed globally at the necessary millions-of-hectares scale, simultaneously solving multiple environmental problems and providing hundreds of thousands of jobs.
SOLUTION: “ATS directs a shallow water flow (fresh or saline) over a simply manufactured surface. Algal cells, ubiquitous in natural waters, adhere to the surface, growing rapidly into a dense network of filaments and trapped cells (the “”turf””), efficiently removing CO2, nutrients and pollutants, adding oxygen and reducing acidity. The turf remains immobile as the water passes through it, functioning as a solar-powered, self-replicating water filter/enhancer. Frequent harvesting permanently removes unwanted contaminants, providing biomass for downstream processes (land restoration, fertilizer/biofuel production, carbon sequestration).
ATS is currently deployed at hectare scale by HydroMentia, Inc. for treating agricultural runoff where individual nutrient credits are available. This business model, while effective, addresses nutrients individually, whereas ATS simultaneously removes many pollutants and improves water chemistry. Based at the Smithsonian Institution, we aim to capitalize on our recently discovered growth-surface innovation more than doubling ATS productivity and exceeding local agricultural production ~25X, by conducting targeted research to ascertain optimum parameters. We further aim to leverage this higher productivity by pursuing funding for demonstrations of ATS in multiple new markets. Proposals in preparation include enhancement of shellfish aquaculture, tar-sand site remediation and carbon capture, and cleanup of the Salton Sea.”
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