Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

  • ncookson
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Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Hi there,

Today it is my turn to introduce to you our grant from the BMGF that I have the pleasure of leading. We are a small start-up in San Diego. We are collaborating with the Van Ommering Dairy in Lakeside, CA. We will be using their farm as the demonstration site for our full-scale treatment system, where we will treat the waste from both their septic system and their dairy cows. We conduct the water testing and other laboratory experiments at our lab/office space at the above address.

Our project is called: Algae for the Effective and Economical Treatment of Waste

Subtitle: Developing a full-scale demonstration of a “waste farm” that will cultivate algae for the production of bioenergy and a valuable live feed crop for the local community using waste as the feedstock.


  • Name of lead organization: Quantitative BioSciences, Inc.
  • Primary contact at lead organization: Natalie Cookson
  • Grantee location: San Diego, California, USA
  • Developing country where the research is being or will be tested: Currently being developed in the USA, but targeting urban areas of India and Africa for Phase III depolyment.
Short description of the project:

The goal of our project is to develop a full-scale demonstration of a "waste farm," an efficient, easy-to-operate, and novel waste treatment system that will involve mass cultivating algae for the production of bioenergy and a valuable live feed crop for the local community using waste as the feedstock. We are using next-generation biotechnology to characterize and evolve native strains of algae for higher productivity in order to maximize the potential for energy and revenue generation.

Goal(s):

The goal of our project is to develop a full-scale demonstration of a “waste farm,” which could ultimately be set up on the periphery of small urban areas in the developing world. Mobile vacuum trucks will collect human feces from latrine pits and septic tanks as well as cow dung from urban cattle sheds and transport it to the treatment facility for processing and ultimately for the generation of energy and revenue. Our technology will not rely on sewer systems, and it will use a sophisticated computational control system to enable remote monitoring of the treatment quality to minimize the need for on-site maintenance and service. For our Phase I work, we have developed an experimental scale set up of such a waste farm, and we have demonstrated the successful treatment of waste using comprehensive data. In addition, we have shown that the algae grown in our treatment system can be used as an aquatic feed.

Objectives:

Objective 1: Develop a full-scale waste treatment plant. Our focus for Phase II of our project will be on the design, engineering, and testing of a wastewater treatment system that could ultimately be replicated and implemented as waste farms in developing urban areas. We are collaborating with the Van Ommering Dairy in Lakeside, CA, and our process will involve passing a large volume of waste (150,000 liters per day) through a series of biological processes that we will construct on the dairy (Fig. 1, see attached below at the end of the post) to progressively treat waste and convert organic material and nutrients into energy and valuable biomass. The waste will begin in an anaerobic lagoon/digester that will promote sedimentation and anaerobic breakdown of waste. This large lagoon (22 million liters) will be covered to prevent the escape of methane, carbon dioxide, and odors. The waste will next pass to a set of high rate algae ponds (230,000 liters), which will support vigorous algae growth for the uptake of nutrients and enhanced disinfection of the water. Finally, wastewater will be transferred to a fairy shrimp pond (319,000 liters) for algae filtration and to a maturation pond (1.2 million liters) for final treatment that promotes removal of micro-organisms by solar radiation, sedimentation and protozoan grazing. Tilapia will be grown in the maturation pond, feeding on any remaining algae.

Objective 2: Algae identification and evolution. Our innovative approach to enhancing algae-based wastewater treatment will involve the novel application of two avenues of biotechnology (Fig. 2). First, we will use next-generation sequencing to characterize the native algae species that grow in our waste treatment ponds. Initial experiments have revealed hundreds of species of algae and bacteria in our system, and we will use this technology to fully characterize the ecology of the ponds in order to understand how it evolves over time and to determine which species are dominant. We will then use novel microfluidic technology pioneered by our group to rapidly evolve the species of interest for enhanced productivity. Once we have achieved the desired characteristics, we will reintroduce these enhanced native strains back into the pond system, and we will seed the ponds as necessary to maintain the strain of interest in the continuously growing algae culture.

Objective 3: Development of fairy shrimp as a feed. Prominent algae species determined by the sequencing efforts will be cultured in lab and fed to fairy shrimp. Fairy shrimp eggs are capable of drying out, becoming cysts that are capable of withstanding heat, cold, and prolonged desiccation, making them an excellent feed product as they can be shipped dry and then rehydrated into a live feed (Fig. 3). We will experiment with feeding quantities and culture conditions to develop a protocol to optimize the conversion of algae to fairy shrimp biomass. On the farm, we will construct smaller-scale experimental ponds where we can test the viability and proliferation of the fairy shrimp in a competitive outdoor environment and can develop protocols for the collection and desiccation of cysts for sale or use as a live feed for fish.
  • Start and end date: End date 30 April 2013, final report due 15 June 2013
  • Grant type: GCE R6
  • Funding for this research currently ongoing (yes/no): We just completed our Phase I work and have applied for Phase II funding. We are also funded by the USDA and the CEC for the development of our waste treatment technology.
  • Research or implementation partners: We are working with UCSD as well as with the Van Ommering Dairy farm in Lakeside, CA, where we are building a full-scale waste treatment system.

Links, further readings – results to date: Our Phase I report discusses our results to date (see below).

We also have a website: www.qbisci.com . It is kind of a work in progress…we're in the middle of re-vamping it, but I guess it'll do for now.

Current state of affairs:

The goal of our GCE Phase I proposal was to develop an efficient, easy-to-operate, and novel waste treatment and bioenergy production system: mass cultivating a strain of algae using wastewater as the feedstock. We have successfully constructed a multi-pond system that processes 200 L/day of municipal and agricultural waste, produces energy in the form of biogas, and generates valuable algae biomass that we have tested as an effective feed for various fish species.

Biggest successes so far:

We have had a lot of success with the use of high rate algae ponds for enhancing waste treatment, and the details of these results as measured by quantifying critical water treatment parameters can be found in our Phase I report. We have also successfully used molecular biology techniques to genetically alter a laboratory strain of algae. Images and data taken using this strain to express a green fluorescent protein as a visible reporter can also be found in our Phase I report.

Main challenges/frustrations:

The synthetic biology aspect of our project has been a great challenge but has also led us to evolve our idea for utilizing the algae biomass in a way that will optimize its benefit for the communities that we are targeting with this technology. After conducting thorough research of the market for algae biomass, we have determined that the most efficient and economical use of the algae will be as a feed for fairy shrimp or a similar organism that can serve as a live feed or can be sold to boost the local economy. By using the algae directly as an aquatic feed, it does not need to be harvested, which is the most expensive and time-consuming aspect of using high-rate algae ponds for waste treatment. If we can eliminate this expensive and energy-intensive step while producing a valuable product, we will take a huge step toward developing a system that can be self-sufficient, low-maintenance, and profitable for the target communities.

Thanks so much, and please let me know if you have any other questions.

Natalie

President of Quantitative BioSciences, Inc.
San Diego, CA
www.qbisci.com
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  • AquaVerde
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Dear Natalie,

Thanks for your very inspiring work you sharing with us!

Just for a pounder for the collegues in cold climate areas:

Could also algae under our more cold climate conditions in large insulated tanks with permanent "cold" LED-lighting from all sides, do the job?



Maybe a good use of the more nutrient-rich drain water of biogas-digester + digester- and CHP waste heat and energy produce during 12 months over the year, will help?

The growing algae could be permanent feed to the upstream digester by pump.

For many large scale digester's with CHPs in could climates is the useful use of the "waste heat" a big problem and they dumping this heat.

Maybe a combination waste-water+algae+digester+chp requires less space, less harvest- & transport costs and less stress them difficult approvals for irrigation of energy crops with treated waste-water.

Best Regards,
Detlef SCHWAGER

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  • JKMakowka
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

LEDs are not particularly good plant growing lights, but you could go for a HID lamp like those illegal hemp growers often do.

However in cold climatic areas it is not light what limits plant growth, but rather temperature and (as everywhere else) atmospheric CO2 content (now that we are at 400ppm plants actually grow a bit better :-/ ).

So putting these algae in a heated greenhouse and making sure the glass stays transparent (no inside dew / outside dust or snow) should do the trick.

There is actually a pilot plant near Cologne, where algae are grown on power-plant exhaust to get the needed heat and CO2. But that is obviously a carbon sequestration pilot.

Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)


Microbiologist & emergency WASH specialist
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Thanks Julius for your thought and additional examples,

Again, this is only to exchange ideas, it is not already project related:

All project examples you mention and the project Natalie introduced to us are located in warm climate and using very large scale open & complex tube systems.

How about having smaller scale algae producing systems (biomass), i.e. in an original dark insulated/heated tank with stirring devices as we know from large agricultural biogas plants, i.e. in Europe:
- insulated/heated tank with stirring devices
- Adding LEDs to this standard biogas-plant. On the internet I found information about LEDs with the right light spectrum to have photosyntheses.
- Agricultural- or Sanitation- Digester + CHP with many "wast"-heat, its hot CHP exhaust have CO2 too.
- Using partly treated waste water to have still enough nutrients inside.

So we might have all the "cooking ingredients" together in a smaller pot and the needed light spectrum too ;-)

But maybe the total cost for cooking is to high in comparison to real results/profits...

Best Regards,
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Hi Natalie

We have a unique product to grow Diatom Algae in large ponds and lakes.
Diatoms would be ideal for your project.
They grow even in low light and are the best food for all types of Shrimp and Tilapia.

Our product - NUALGI - was invented for use in shrimp hatcheries and then we found that it worked even in the grow out ponds, eutrophic lakes and even in raw sewage.

Nualgi is invented in India and is being used in US in eutrophic lakes - www.nualgi.net

Clean technology promoter.

I am working on a clean technology product to grow Diatom Algae in large waterways. Diatoms account for about 25% of all photosynthesis on Earth and hence are the best solution to consume CO2, N and P and oxygenate water and feed fish.

I am a Chartered Accountant but am now an entrepreneur focussed on clean technology.
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  • F H Mughal
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

In oxidation ponds, the algae-bacteria symbiosis is well-known. Photosynthetic oxygenation is the production of oxygen through the action of light on the chloroplastic tissue (chlorophyll) of algae. In other words, algae are a free source of oxygen production. This happens in oxidation ponds located in warm climates.

In water bodies, green algae are able to achieve supersaturation with dissolved oxygen, which can be 4 times the normal saturation value of water, when in equilibrium with the atmosphere. It is known that in oxidation ponds, under warm and sunny weather, the wastewater treatment is accomplished relatively more quickly due to oxygenation work of algae. However, the long detention in the system will render algae old and fat, which in turn, contribute cell material increasing the pond load.

Pond variables that impact bacteria-algae symbiosis include retention times, characteristics and strength of wastewater, light intensity, temperature, bacterial and algal species involved, population dynamics, chlorophyll formation, rate of oxygenation and respiration.

Against that background, it is interesting to see Mr. Detlef’s research ideas of dark insulated/heated tank with stirring devices and adding LED lights. The only point I would like to make here is that, in my review above, oxygen provided by algae is free, while in Mr. Detlef’s work, it will be at a cost.

F H Mughal

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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Mr Mughal

You said -

"...green algae are able to achieve supersaturation with dissolved oxygen,....

It is known that in oxidation ponds, under warm and sunny weather, the wastewater treatment is accomplished relatively more quickly due to oxygenation work of algae.
...
However, the long detention in the system will render algae old and fat, which in turn, contribute cell material increasing the pond load."

We are advocating growing Diatom Algae, they give the same benefits of Green Algae but do not have the problems associated with Green Algae.

Diatoms grow even in low light conditions, due to their silica shell they require less light.

They are rapidly consumed by Zooplankton or flow out with the treated water, so do not accumulate in the pond and contribute to the organic load.

Clean technology promoter.

I am working on a clean technology product to grow Diatom Algae in large waterways. Diatoms account for about 25% of all photosynthesis on Earth and hence are the best solution to consume CO2, N and P and oxygenate water and feed fish.

I am a Chartered Accountant but am now an entrepreneur focussed on clean technology.
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  • ncookson
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Hi Everyone,

Thanks for the great comments and suggestions. I'm sorry for the delayed reply, but I wasn't getting notified about these posts, so I didn't know there was any interest!

I think some of you have answered each other's questions/comments, so I'll see if there is anything I can add.

Bhaskar, thanks for your suggestion to use Diatoms. I think this is a good idea, and we will look into it. Right now we are working with whatever algae naturally populate our ponds, and we plan to try to isolate and optimize the naturally favored strains. But we will certainly consider your suggestion.

Detlef - yes, using an insulated container and artificial lighting would certainly be a possibility for colder climates. Of course this will greatly increase the cost, but this could still be offset by the production of energy and the biomass. I believe that F H Mughal is making this point as well.

Thanks everyone for your comments. I will make sure to check back more often!

Natalie

President of Quantitative BioSciences, Inc.
San Diego, CA
www.qbisci.com
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Natalie

You have misunderstood our solution.
We are not asking you to add Diatoms to your ponds.
Our product will make the native Diatoms grow.

All natural ponds have diatoms but in nutrient rich conditions, Blue Green Algae grow faster. So when our product, which is a MICRO-nutrient mix, is a added the nutrients are balanced with micro nutrients and the diatoms that are available will grow.

So we too "are working with whatever algae naturally populate our ponds,.."

"and we plan to try to isolate and optimize the naturally favored strains."

The difference is that we have achieved species selection without isolating by just optimizing the micro nutrient availability.

Just add Nualgi and the NATIVE Diatoms will grow.

Nualgi inventor and manufacturer's website is www.nualgi.com/new

A recent report about use of Nualgi to deal with sewage -
in.reset.org/blog/nualgi-%E2%80%93-saviour-sewage-water

Clean technology promoter.

I am working on a clean technology product to grow Diatom Algae in large waterways. Diatoms account for about 25% of all photosynthesis on Earth and hence are the best solution to consume CO2, N and P and oxygenate water and feed fish.

I am a Chartered Accountant but am now an entrepreneur focussed on clean technology.
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Again, this is only "food for thoughts", to exchange ideas on algae production in cold climates, it is not already to susana-projects related:

August 2013: jena.otz.de/web/lokal/leben/detail/-/spe...effektive-1931818425
or
www.ingenieur.de/Themen/Forschung/Optimi...t-rotes-Licht-besser

see local newspaper in German language

"Red light therapy for green stuff"
- efficient algae reactors
by University of Jena Prof. Wondraczek

...das Konzept gerade für Gegenden mit im Vergleich zum sonnenverwöhnten Süden geringerer Sonnen­einstrahlung geeignet, ergänzt er. Ein weiterer Vorteil der Innovation: Sie ist in geschlossenen Räumen anwendbar. Das eröffnet Möglichkeiten, die effektiven Reaktoren auch unter künstlicher Beleuchtung oder gar im Weltall fleißig Algen wachsen zu lassen.

...the concept is suitable for areas with lesser sunlight compared to the sun-drenched south, he added. Another advantage of the innovation: it is applicable to closed spaces. This opens up opportunities to leave the actual reactors hardworking algae grow under artificial lighting or even in space.

other German ongoing example in East-Hessen Germany: goo.gl/maps/SAVqW

Even under our cold German conditions, Algae production in heated tunnel reactor with effluent from wwtp and Co2 from Biogas-CHP to feed additional biomass to bio-gas digester at a farm:


Algenland GmbH is a spin-off by University Giessen www.uewag.de/unternehmen/innovation/biogas and www.uni-giessen.de/cms/fbz/fb09/institut...t/projekte/alg/algen


in short the developments around man made algae production are fast, even in cold climate areas at smaller scale them in USA...

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  • KimAndersson
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Dear Natalie,
I hope that your project is developing well. It would be nice to get an update of your progress. I also have some questions that I would like to ask you about.

From what I could see in your first phase report you were planning to go to full scale in the US but also in developing countries. Do you foresee or have you already experienced challenges in the process due to changes of wastewater characteristics in different contexts?

Depending of the sources of wastewater, there may be elevated levels of heavy metals in incoming water. Is this a parameter that you analyze? Considering that algae can have an uptake of heavy metals that subsequently can be accumulated in the shrimps. As an alternative to use the algae as feed, have you also considered it as a substrate for biogas generation?

To enhance the reuse potential further in your project, are you also considering using the treated wastewater for irrigation purposes?

Looking forward to get some news from your project.

Did you get Phase 2 funding, by the way, and if not, do you have an alternative funding source for further research work which you could access? (I read that your Phase 1 ended in June 2013)

Best regards,
Kim

Kim Andersson
Stockholm Environment Institute
Postbox 24218,104 51 Stockholm, Sweden
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