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Algae To Clean Atmosphere

Dr. Isaac Berzin of MIT has thought of a way to use algae to clean power-plant exhaust. Rows of algae-filled tubes are bolted onto the exhaust stacks of a 20-megawatt power plant behind MIT's campus.


(Temperature-controlled tubes of algae - Dr. Berzin at left)

Dr. Berzin's company GreenFuel has installed 30 bioreactors on the roof of the plant. Each bioreactor consists of polycarbonate tubing in the shape of a triangle; the tubes are clear, to allow sunlight in. Inside each tube, exhaust will mix with the algae. Thanks to photosynthesis, the algae will consume the CO2 and pollutants, grow in volume and give off oxygen and nitrogen.

Once dried, the algae forms a biomass similar to an artist's soft charcoal. This can, in turn, be burned like coal or liquified into oil or used to make plastics, nutraceuticals or food.

Dr. Berzin calculates that a 1,000 megawat power plant would produce about 40 million gallons of biodiesel and 50 million gallons of ethanol a year.

Larry Niven and Jerry Pournelle, in their excellent 1974 novel Mote in God's Eye, write about a form of atmosphere "cleansing" that is very similar, used on a recently terraformed planet:

Potter was doing most of the talking and all the pointing. "Those twin volcanoes; d'ye see them, Mr. Renner? D'ye see yon boxlike structures near the peak of each one? They're atmosphere control. When yon volcanoes belch gas, the maintenance posts fire jets of tailored algae into the air stream. Without them our atmosphere would soon be foul again."
(Read morea bout atmospheric cleansing)

Read more NewScientist and MIT.

Scroll down for more stories in the same category. (Story submitted 1/12/2006)

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