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Can we create biofuels, fertilizer from Great Lakes algae?

Just like the plankton that feeds our oceans, a University at Buffalo environmental engineer by the name of David Blersch has been researching the possible benefits of the normally destructive algae in our lakes. As of late blue-green algae blooms have become a major concern, resulting in massive fish kills, unhealthy and dead pets, as well as sick people. What if we could actually harness the destructive organism, and instead of being at its mercy there was a way to use it to our advantage? Could this algae even be used for such things as biofuels and fertilizer? Instead of strangling our lakes, creating dead zones, could we harness the algae to do our bidding?

High concentrations of algae, combined with excess fertilizer, manure and sewage, warmer temperatures… it’s the perfect storm for an algae bloom. Blersch has beeb removing the algae from the water and testing it for its potential. “One element of the project is pollution recovery. By using the algae beds to remove excess nutrients from the lake, we can improve water quality,” says Blersch, PhD, research assistant professor in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The other aspect is studying its properties; is it viable to turn algae into biofuels, fertilizer or other commercial products?”

We may not be at the point of turning the algae into fuels at the moment, but we may be closer to discovering the trick that would utilize the blue-green menace to actually help us clean up our precious water sources… water sources such as Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park, the Buffalo River that have high levels of algae and low oxygen levels. “This research is really a unique opportunity to examine issues that delve into sustainable bioenergy and how we can use innovative technology to improve our waterways,” said UB student Peter Byrley. “There is plenty of algae out there – we just haven’t, up until now, been able to harvest it very easily.”

Byrley and Blersch have teamed up with Buffalo high school students to form an initiative called Groundwork Buffalo, “a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build sustainable urban environments.”

A video of Blersch and students collecting algae samples is available here:

Learn more about the project at this UB resource

Written by queenseyes


Newell Nussbaumer is 'queenseyes' - Eyes of the Queen City and Founder of Buffalo Rising. Co-founder Elmwood Avenue Festival of the Arts. Co-founder Powder Keg Festival that built the world's largest ice maze (Guinness Book of World Records). Instigator behind Emerald Beach at the Erie Basin Marina. Co-created Flurrious! winter festival. Co-creator of Rusty Chain Beer. Instigator behind Saturday Artisan Market (SAM) at Canalside. Founder of The Peddler retro and vintage market. Instigator behind Liberty Hound @ Canalside. Throws The Witches Ball at The Hotel @ The Lafayette, and the Madd Tiki Winter Luau. Other projects: Navigetter.

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  • jordanda
    You need to re-read the press release from UB — they teamed up with Groundwork Buffalo, which is part of a national non-profit network.

  • TominBuff

    So basically what he is saying is that we wants wetland restoration to purify our waters before the runoff enters the lake and turns it apoxic .Got it.
    Lining our rivers with filtering trees and reeds and water lilies and water hyacinths are huge filters. These plants can filter enough to actually be used in sewar treatment plants and are done so across the country.
    As far as energy…well…scientific research left Algae along time ago…though there are a few die hards trying to make it work. Today the investment grade money is in bio-engineered bacteria whose waste is a form of alcohol or simple oil.
    Now there is absolutely no reason why cannot team up with the NYPA and NYSERG to create a center for excellence in Niagara Falls that promotes research in alternative energy, energy management and energy distribution. The Niagara Power Authority is the largest energy production facility in the entire state…and its right here in our backyard. The job creation would be huge…instead NYPA and NYSERG give money for park. Its pathetic really.
    As far as preventing Lake Erie from being apoxic…that is a multi-state and multi-national effort. Every Great Lakes State has their own problem with pollution run off from farming, factories, and sewar runoff. Even Lake Erie alone consists of Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, New York and Canada. I suppose we could threaten to shut off the flow of the Niagara River and flood them all until they adopt anti-pollution laws (sarcasm).