July 09, 2010

College of William and Mary Harvests Algae From Polluted Lake

Gene Tracy guided a raft ashore at Lake Matoaka. But unlike the colonists who settled this land, his quarry wasn't food or shelter — it was algae.

The College of William and Mary, in collaboration with industry and other universities, plans to turn the fish-killing algae into biodiesel fuel for cars, airplanes, and just about anything else that guzzles gasoline.

On Thursday, Tracy, a physics professor, along with other university officials and a handful of students, worked to assemble the machine — or flume — tasked with the job.

A rectangle-shaped floating dock with its midsection removed, the flume acts as a channel that will trap nitrogen, phosphorous and other nutrients that form oxygen-deprived dead zones in the lake and Chesapeake Bay watershed.

"Think of it as a rain-gutter-type device," said Karl Kuschner, the university's research scientist leading the effort. "We'll be creating a 40-foot long hole in the water."

The flume, which cost about $80,000 in parts and labor, has the potential to remove 20 percent of the lake's pollution, Kuschner said. Under the right conditions, it will produce six to eight gallons of dry algae every two weeks.

Too small scale to solve the nation's energy woes, the project will help scientists learn how to turn algae into biodiesel in a cost-effective manner, Kuschner said.

Source : Daily Press

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