In a session at the 2013 Greenbuild in Philadelphia, Taimur Burki, Global Green Building Program Manager for Intel Corporation, and Joshua Wray, Graduate Research Assistant (PhD) at Arizona State University, discussed the possibility of using algae as an industrial emissions control strategy.
The session picked apart the results of an experiment between ASU and Intel to analyze algae’s impact on the industrial sector. Wray, a self-professed algae farmer, has been involved in many bioremediation projects in the past that involved capturing nutrients from waste streams, but, in this case, the algae was intended to draw carbon and nitrogen from flue gases.
After identifying the many alternate uses of algae—biofuels, pharmaceuticals, even cookies—researchers found that some strains are very adaptable. Picking and choosing the best strains for this was incredibly important. Essentially, only specific strands of algae will feed on carbon dioxide and help reduce emissions.
The desert is used as a perfect test site for many reasons. These dry places offer a lot of sun (which is key to photosynthesis), heat, access to wastewater and non-arable land. Not to mention, many world-renowned algae scientists live there.
ASU worked with Intel to erect flat panel bioreactors on the roof of one of their fabrication buildings to capture boiler emissions and convert them into biofuel. These reactors were filled with algae grown from ponds or other bioreactors.
Researchers studied the bioreactors to see if they could grow algae, whether the CO2 was filtered out and if this process could be used to create clean-burning fuel. There is still much research to be done and many follow-up experiments on the docket, but they had great success in growing algae and filtering carbon and nitrogen oxides out of the flue gas.
[See what the bioreactors look like; learn more from Intel’s Brad Biddle in this video].
Though the desert light and heat are desirable to the algae farmers, this process happening all over the country. In a similar partnership, Duke Energy and University of Kentucky will soon start using algae to convert flue gas emissions into biofuel.
It doesn’t just stop in America. In a recent article in The Times of India, the country’s largest generation utility has launched a project to use algae to minimize CO2 from their power projects.
It’s still a process that researchers are learning about every day, but its potential is outstanding. A key to sustainable building is to reduce carbon emissions, and if something as small and plentiful as microalgae can help bring plants to near-zero emissions, it means exciting possibilities for the future.
This guest post is by Phil Stamper, ASLA PR and Communications Coordinator.
Image credit: (1) Microalgae / Spirulina Info, (2) Flue Gas / Think Progress