|Santa Cruz looks to algae to clean sewage||| Print ||
|Written by Ecology Action|
Santa Cruz looks to algae to clean sewage
By GENEVIEVE BOOKWALTER
Posted: 03/29/2009 01:30:39 AM PDT
SANTA CRUZ -- Today's flush could become tomorrow's fertilizer, as a new experiment involving city wastewater, NASA researchers and Google startup money seeks to grow algae biofuels at sea to clean water and spread on farmers' fields, among other uses.
"It's pretty wild stuff," said Bill Kocher, director of the Santa Cruz Water Department. "When I was sitting there listening to it I thought, you know, only in Santa Cruz."
City leaders this week agreed to help fledgling company AlgaeOMEGA apply for permits to float 3-foot diameter "plastic envelopes" filled with city sewer water and freshwater algae about two miles off the Santa Cruz coast.
The wastewater, Kocher stressed, would be cleaned to levels already considered safe for the sanctuary before it's put in the bags. But even those standards allow a small amount of leftover nutrients to remain, Kocher said. Ideally, the algae would then clean the remaining wastewater to an even higher level before osmosis pulls it through the envelopes' one-way exit membranes and into the ocean.
Right now, treated water from toilets and sinks in Capitola to the North Coast is piped two miles offshore and released on the ocean floor. If approved by the California Coastal Commission and other necessary agencies, the plastic envelopes would be anchored near the pipe and float on the ocean's surface, marked by protecting buoys, according to a City Council report. Up to six plastic envelopes would be used, and the
test plot would cover 12 square feet. Waves, instead of knocking the envelope loose, would help swirl the algae-wastewater concoction, Kocher said.
As a result, "Whatever goes in, goes out even cleaner," Kocher said.
For its part, the algae would grow fat on nutrients washed down drains of the water district's 90,000 users, and could later be harvested for biofuel, fertilizer or animal feed, among other products.
The idea was pitched by NASA researchers Robert Baertsch, Sherwin Gormly and Kathleen Phillips, along with Elizabeth Thompson, formerly with Ecology Action, who is acting as AlgaeOMEGA's "government liaison." Search engine giant Google is helping to pay startup costs. A timeline for the project to be up and running has not been released.
The group declined to talk in detail about their work, as they are just starting out and don't want to jeopardize it by speaking too soon, Thompson said.
But city leaders, while they have not given explicit support, signaled that the project, if successful, could bring more than another "gee whiz" factor to Santa Cruz. It could create much-needed jobs.
"Research into creative, ecological and innovative solutions is closely aligned with the city's goals to be a hub of green innovation," said Bonnie Lipscomb, director of the city Economic Development and Redevelopment Department.
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