from Desert Dispatch
City looks at algae as possible fix for wastewater problemsComments 5 | 2
Biofuel and fertilizer produced as byproducts
BARSTOW • The solution to the city’s problems with the groundwater contamination around Soapmine Road could come in the form of green algae.
Mayor Joe Gomez is floating the idea of partnering with Southern California-based developer Brad Ducich and a group of Virginia-based researchers to create an operation in which ponds full of green algae would eat the nitrates from contaminated water while the algae is harvested to make biofuels and fertilizer. The treated water could then be pumped back into the ground to flush out the contaminated groundwater.
Ducich and Dr. Patrick Hatcher, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry at Old Dominion University and executive director of the Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium, were in Barstow Friday to talk to stakeholders including the mayor, Councilman Tim Saenz, and residents of the Soapmine Road area.
The prospect could have the city and Soapmine Road residents on the same side of the table for once.
The city is under orders by the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board to come up with a remediation plan for the Soapmine area groundwater. The water board determined that the high level of nitrates in the groundwater was caused by the city irrigating a field to the west of the Soapmine Road area with treated wastewater from the city’s wastewater plant for about two decades prior to 2004.
Soapmine Road resident Christina Byrne, who has been vocal on the groundwater issue, said residents are excited by the idea of using algae in the cleanup.
“The neighborhood is very optimistic,” she said. “I’m optimistic, I’m happy.”
Algae is not being used commercially for wastewater treatment currently, Hatcher said, but Virginia Coastal Energy Research Consortium and several other groups are currently conducting pilot projects pairing biodiesel production with wastewater remediation.
Al Darzins, group manager of the National Bioenergy Center at the National Renewable Energy Lab, which has put many years of research into algae-based fuels, said algae has a higher energy content and yields a far higher amount of oil per acre than other plants used for biofuels. But with the fuel costing an estimated $10 a gallon or more to produce, it is not yet cost effective, he said.
Hatcher said that with the production costs being offset by selling byproducts like fertilizer, the actual cost per gallon of biofuel could be $1.50 to $2 a gallon.
The idea of using algae for wastewater remediation in Barstow is still very much in the initial phases and will need to go to the City Council before it moves forward, Gomez said.
First Step Plus LLC, a company owned by Ducich, already has a conditional use permit to develop 34 acres on Interstate 40 by the Daggett airport into a truck stop. Now, Ducich said, he is looking at putting an algae farm on the property and selling biofuel as well as regular fuel there.
Ducich said he hopes to begin construction in the next six months.
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