VICKSBURG, Miss.– U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center (ERDC) researchers attended a demonstration of freshwater harmful algae removal technology at William H. Harsha Lake in Batavia, Ohio, September 15.
The Ohio Department of Natural Resources H2Ohio Program hosted the event, with industry partners Woolpert, an architecture, engineering, geospatial and strategic consulting firm, and AECOM, an infrastructure and engineering company, presenting the technology. The Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment, and Transformation System (HABITATS) underpins the harmful algal bloom (HAB) removal unit demonstrated at the lake, which is located just outside of Cincinnati.
“This supports our current focus on technology transition — we played a central role in developing impactful technology for HABs mitigation in collaboration with academia, industry and government partners, and it is exciting to see the level of stakeholder engagement in assessing potential transition of the capability,” ERDC Operational Water Research Team Lead Dr. Martin Page said.
In 2019 Page and his ERDC team developed the HABITATS approach, which integrates several complementary technologies to create a scalable capability that removes the harmful algae and associated nutrients from large bodies of water, turning the resulting biomass into products like biofuel and fertilizer while destroying any potential toxins.
HABITATS is scalable because it can be adapted to a range of bloom types and sizes in a variety of climates ― important considerations for this technology as HABs have occurred in areas ranging from Florida to New York.
“AECOM has been a key part of the HABITATS effort in leading development of the dissolved air flotation technology that separates cyanobacteria from water, a key step that has been adapted and improved in the HABITATS effort,” Page said.
The cyanobacteria, or the blue-green algae nuisance species that cause HABs, pose a significant threat to the nation’s water resources and economy, impacting reservoir operations, recreation, water supply, wildlife and human health and safety. According to an article that appeared in a May 2017 issue of Environmental Science & Technology, a 2014 toxic HAB event in Lake Erie alone caused an estimated $71 million in economic losses to the city of Toledo, cutting off drinking water access for more than two days.
The ERDC team filed an invention disclosure last year for some chemical treatment processes that Page said have worked well for HABITATS.
“The HABITATS technology itself has not been patented, which will hopefully speed up technology transfer and public use,” Dr. Jen Seiter-Moser, ERDC technical director for Civil Works Environmental Engineering and Sciences, said.
Page’s ERDC team, along with AECOM and Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL), demonstrated HABITATS on a pilot scale in 2019 at Florida’s Lake Okeechobee.
“In 2020 we did two more field demonstrations with AECOM, one in Florida and one in New York,” Page said. “We identified some gaps in the technology that would limit scalability. Since then, we’ve been working in parallel with AECOM in addressing those gaps.”
“This summer, we set up a large HABIATS demonstration in Florida” Page said. “AECOM visited the site in early August and also provided us with some large samples of algal biomass from one of their other demos, which was then treated to create biocrude oil in a trailer-mounted hydrothermal liquefaction system that was designed and operated by our collaborators at the University of Illinois.”
PNNL was also onsite for the demonstration and is processing materials from the demonstration at their facility to assess oil yields and upgrade the biocrude oil to diesel fuel.
At the latest demonstration in Ohio, ERDC provided equipment for testing and performed fieldwork to assess algae concentrations in the source water at various depths.
“The data collected will help us assess and improve the scalability of HABITATS,” Page said. “We also assessed an in situ algae flotation method to help pre-concentrate the algae at the water surface, which would further improve the scalability and efficiency of HABITATS.”
“We’re really excited about the advancements in this technology,” Seiter-Moser said. “It’s another tool in the nation’s toolbox for combating HABs. Partnerships are key to solving complex environmental problems like HABs.”