New project uses flue gas and wastewater to make algae

Aerial image of an algae cultivation system from Global Algae Innovations
Aerial image of an algae cultivation system from Global Algae Innovations

by Lisa Sheppard, Prairie Research Institute

A three-year, $2.5 million Illinois Sustainable Technology Center (ISTC) engineering-scale project will be one of the first and largest to combine carbon dioxide (CO2) from a coal-fired power plant with nutrients from wastewater treatment plants to cultivate algae for animal feeds. The project will demonstrate that producing algae for commodity animal products can be cost-effective and has added environmental benefits.

Algae has been used for decades in the niche markets of health and beauty. A more recent focus is its ability to use CO2 from coal-fired power plants to make biofuels and protein-rich food products.

Algae is fast-growing compared with traditional terrestrial feed crops, so it’s an attractive alternative for use in taking up CO2 from power plants because it requires less land, according to ISTC principal investigator Lance Schideman. Researchers will use the algae species Spirulina because it is already FDA approved for use as a food ingredient and has a high protein content, which commands higher prices.

The algae cultivation system will be integrated with the City Water, Light and Power plant in Springfield, Illinois. Schideman is collaborating with University of Illinois researchers Joshua McCann and Carl Parsons, who will conduct the animal feed studies. Global Algae Innovations will provide the algae biomass production system to be demonstrated at field scale for this project. The project is co-funded by the U.S. Department of Energy National Energy Technology Laboratory.

In the past, ISTC scientists have researched wastewater algae systems that are now used at 10 full-scale operating wastewater plants. They’ve also been a leader in recycling the byproducts of hydrothermal biofuel production to enhance algal biomass productivity. Global Algae Innovations is a leading designer and equipment supplier in the algae industry that has developed and demonstrated cost-effective, large-scale algae production systems.

“We’re putting all the pieces together in a coordinated fashion and lowering the net costs of growing algae using industrial and municipal by-products as inputs to improve the economic environmental sustainability of algal carbon capture,” Schideman said.

This approach reduces pollution and replaces the costly CO2 and nutrient inputs used in most algae cultivation systems. In the current commercial technology, managers buy liquid CO2 and various commercial fertilizers for the nutrient supply.

The wastewater, which is full of organic nutrients that support algae growth, will come from a local wastewater treatment plant.

“Using wastewater is a cost savings in the production process and it helps to solve problems that wastewater treatment plants are experiencing in trying to minimize nutrient discharges in the environment,” Schideman said. “In Illinois, the treatment plants are under increasing scrutiny, and regulations that are now voluntary are expected to become more stringent and potentially mandatory within the next decade.”

Ultimately, the system will produce feed especially for cattle and chickens. The product will be dry, which helps reduce spoilage, and will have a high nutritional value compared with some other feeds.

The typical price range for most bulk animal feed ingredients is $150–350 per ton, and certain high-value products can have a market value of $1,000–$2,000 per ton. Algae has the potential to command prices near the top of the range since some species contain highly nutritional components such as antioxidants and poly-unsaturated fatty acids. However, algal animal feeds are not yet established in the market, and the value of these products must be demonstrated through research studies like this one.

Schideman notes that the size of the animal feeds market is quite large and is a good match with the amount of CO2 produced by power plants around the country. Thus, using CO2 from flue gas in algae production has the potential to significantly reduce greenhouse gasses.


Media contact: Lance Schideman, 217-390-7070, schidema@illinois.edu
news@prairie.illinois.edu

ClimateView releases free technology to help cities decarbonize

Read the full story at Environment + Energy Leader.

Swedish climate-action technology company ClimateView has made certain parts of its ClimateOS platform available to cities free of charge. ClimateView says the technology will help cities develop strategies to cut their greenhouse gas emissions in line with Paris Agreement commitments. Microsoft and environmental nonprofit Carbon Disclosure Project are partners in the initiative and will promote ClimateOS through their networks.

California nonprofits issue $2 billion in bonds to buy 30 years of renewable energy upfront

Read the full story at Utility Dive.

Three community choice aggregators (CCA) in California issued $2 billion in bonds to pay upfront for about 450 MW of renewable energy over 30 years.

By routing bonds to purchase clean energy through the California Community Choice Financing Authority (CCCFA), the three public energy suppliers expect to save 8-12% on the cost of energy. The financial structure of the transaction will allow the CCAs to take advantage of both bulk energy discounts and the difference between taxable and tax-exempt rates, according to Garth Salisbury, director of finance and treasurer for MCE, a CCA that provides power to 37 San Francisco Bay Area communities.

Although bonds have been used to finance the prepayment of energy and natural gas in the past, this is the first time MCE has used this structure to purchase clean energy, Salisbury said Monday. With the first transactions now complete, he anticipates MCE will make additional purchases using the same template, which could also be used by other energy providers, he said.

UMaine is creating a ‘super potato’

Read the full story from the Bangor Daily News.

For decades, the University of Maine has devoted valuable agricultural research to studying how to improve potato crops, a central element of the state’s agricultural economy.

Over the past year, the focus of the program’s mission has ramped up with one particular goal in mind: make potatoes that are resistant to climate change.

Inside Story: Rural reporter turns routine permit into award-winning investigation

Read the full story from the Society of Environmental Journalists.

Angus Thuermer Jr. is no stranger to the pages of Inside Story, having appeared in mid-2020 to discuss his outstanding small market beat reporting for coverage of water law, gas wells, unlined pits and chronic wasting disease for WyoFile.com. This time around, Thuermer discusses coverage that challenged assumptions about oil field pollutants, winning him a second-place prize for outstanding investigative reporting (small newsroom or circulation) at the Society of Environmental Journalists’ 2020 Annual Awards for Reporting on the Environment.

SEJ’s judges lauded Thuermer, who they said “dug deeply into what might have been a routine state permit for dumping oil field waste into protected waters [and] tracked how regulators’ jargon hid acceptance of flawed industry assurances and the likelihood of degraded water quality.” The stories stirred public opposition, and ultimately EPA criticism forced the state to withdraw the permit. SEJournal Online followed up with him for a new conversation about his award-winning work.

Think climate change is messy? Wait until geoengineering

Read the full story in Wired.

Someone’s bound to hack the atmosphere to cool the planet. So we urgently need more research on the consequences, says climate scientist Kate Ricke.

City trees are turning green early, prompting warnings about food and pollination

Read the full story from NPR.

If you live in a big city, you might see trees start budding even before spring officially arrives.

A new article published in the journal Science found that trees in urban areas have started turning green earlier than their rural counterparts due to cities being hotter and also having more lights.

Perceived publication pressure is linked to intentions to engage in future scientific misconduct

Read the full story at PsyPost.

A series of two studies published in Research Ethics have found that most scholars believe themselves to be moral and predict they will continue behaving morally, that scientific misconduct is frequently noticed by both researchers and their managers, and that perceived publication pressure and willingness to engage in future scientific misconduct are positively correlated.

To corporate America: Stop saying, ‘We’ve always done sustainability!’

Read the full story at GreenBiz.

Has corporate America done amazing things to move our society forward? Yes. Have many companies I encounter done wonderful things for their people, their communities and for the conservation of resources? Yes. I’m a capitalist and have pushed all my chips to the center of the table on business, betting that the power of competition, innovation and quarterly profits will in fact spur all companies to make huge strides in caring for people and the planet in the name of the almighty dollar.

But saying you’ve been at sustainability for decades, or that it’s a part of the purpose upon which the company was founded, or that it’s in your DNA just isn’t true for most companies (save the likes of Patagonia and Seventh Generation, both environmental organizations cleverly disguised as consumer goods companies).

Keeping science reproducible in a world of custom code and data

Read the full story at Ars Technica.

Since the mid-1600s, the output from a typical scientific study has been an essay-style journal article describing the results. But today, in fields ranging from astronomy to microbiology, much of the technical work for a journal article involves writing code to manipulate data sets. If the data and code are not available, other researchers can’t reproduce the original authors’ work and, more importantly, may not be able to build upon the work to explore new methods and discoveries.

Thanks to cultural shifts and funding requirements, more researchers are warming up to open data and open code. Even 100-year-old journals like the Quarterly Journal of Economics or the Journal of the Royal Statistical Society now require authors to provide replication materials—including data and code—with any quantitative paper. Some researchers welcome the new paradigm and see the value in pushing science forward via deeper collaboration. But others feel the burden of learning to use distribution-related tools like Git, Docker, Jupyter, and other not-quite words.