Just like the plankton that feeds our oceans, a University at Buffalo environmental engineer by the name of David Blersch has been researching the possible benefits of the normally destructive algae in our lakes. As of late blue-green algae blooms have become a major concern, resulting in massive fish kills, unhealthy and dead pets, as well as sick people. What if we could actually harness the destructive organism, and instead of being at its mercy there was a way to use it to our advantage? Could this algae even be used for such things as biofuels and fertilizer? Instead of strangling our lakes, creating dead zones, could we harness the algae to do our bidding?
High concentrations of algae, combined with excess fertilizer, manure and sewage, warmer temperatures… it’s the perfect storm for an algae bloom. Blersch has beeb removing the algae from the water and testing it for its potential. “One element of the project is pollution recovery. By using the algae beds to remove excess nutrients from the lake, we can improve water quality,” says Blersch, PhD, research assistant professor in UB’s School of Engineering and Applied Sciences. “The other aspect is studying its properties; is it viable to turn algae into biofuels, fertilizer or other commercial products?”
We may not be at the point of turning the algae into fuels at the moment, but we may be closer to discovering the trick that would utilize the blue-green menace to actually help us clean up our precious water sources… water sources such as Hoyt Lake in Delaware Park, the Buffalo River that have high levels of algae and low oxygen levels. “This research is really a unique opportunity to examine issues that delve into sustainable bioenergy and how we can use innovative technology to improve our waterways,” said UB student Peter Byrley. “There is plenty of algae out there – we just haven’t, up until now, been able to harvest it very easily.”
Byrley and Blersch have teamed up with Buffalo high school students to form an initiative called Groundwork Buffalo, “a nonprofit organization whose mission is to build sustainable urban environments.”
A video of Blersch and students collecting algae samples is available here:http://youtu.be/qdx5-2Atev4.
Learn more about the project at this UB resource