While a productive use for blue-green algae emerges
Aside from the aftermath and challenges of hurricane recovery, Florida is still fighting the growth of Red Tide on both coasts and conducting clean-up efforts on blue-green algae blooms created by water releases from Lake Okeechobee. The company that is leading the massive algae cleanup effort on behalf of the state has been looking at what to do with the byproduct of its efforts – with some surprising results.
Since August, AECOM has been cleaning up waterways in southwest Florida and along the east coast fouled by noxious blue-green algae created by nutrient-rich discharges from Lake Okeechobee.
AECOM is utilizing specially designed floats that skim the water and collect the algae, which is then sucked through flexible tubes into a holding tank aboard a boat. Once it’s treated with chlorine, the solids go to a landfill and the liquid is processed until it’s clean enough to drink, then injected into a deep well.
But instead of sending it to a landfill in the future, AECOM has discovered there’s likely a better use for it.
“We have vendors that we have been talking to that use algae to make biofoam, plastics, fertilizers. The thought is, if we are getting the biomass out, let’s find a use for it,” said Dan Levy, AECOM vice president and environmental business unit leader for Florida, in a recent article in the Gainesville Sun. The story included this fascinating photo gallery of the scientific process the company demonstrated recently for Gainesville officials at an inland lake.
AECOM believes it can also use this extraction process to mitigate the blue-green algae monster that Lake Okeechobee has become in recent years. The company has proposed building an algae harvesting plant to clean phosphorus from upstream inland waters before it reaches Lake Okeechobee. They can then harvest fresh algae to produce these commercially-viable products, which also include shoes and fiber boards and a Florida favorite – surfboards! Now that’s innovative thinking!