Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Fish, Krill and Phytoplankton Biomass of Oceans declining


How the world’s oceans could be running out of fish


Big-Fish Stocks Fall 90 Percent Since 1950, Study Says

A century of fish biomass decline in the ocean


Long-term decline in krill stock and increase in salps within the Southern Ocean


Phytoplankton Population Drops 40 Percent Since 1950

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Algae-based Wastewater System in Development in Yarmouth


Algae-based Wastewater System in Development in Yarmouth

algaeYARMOUTH – A Yarmouth man long involved in trying to solve the region’s water quality woes is moving forward on a pilot program in South Yarmouth that uses algae both to remove nutrients from wastewater and also to power the process.
Brian Braginton-Smith, president and CEO of AquaGen Infrastructure Systems, is working on a facility next to the Parker’s River that is meant to treat wastewater in an environmentally friendly way that also does not burn fossil fuel for the energy supply.
“It’s actually the first fully integrated algae-based wastewater treatment facility that I know of and it’s part of what we’re envisioning as a watershed based solution for the Parker’s River watershed,” Braginton-Smith said.
The Cape Cod Commission has been working on updating the region’s wastewater plan, called the 208 plan, with a watershed-based solution to the region’s wastewater issues.
“It’s got the capability to get way down on the nitrogen that comes out of the pipe,” he said referring to the need to remove as much nitrogen as possible from the wastewater so it does not pollute the region’s groundwater and estuaries.
Braginton-Smith said his process–called a photo-bioreactor–uses microscopic algae that is part of plankton in the ocean and takes advantage of its ability to consume nutrients and carbon dioxide while breathing off oxygen.
Braginton-Smith said he has been running a lab next to the Parker’s River in a greenhouse to the west of the former Zooquarium while developing the process for the last several years.
At night, Braginton-Smith said, “It’s got sort of this purple pinkish glow that’s from the LED lighting. The photo-bioreactor is in a 24-hour photosynthesis cycle, so it’s always sort of breathing CO2 in and exhaling carbon dioxide and consuming nutrients.”
Braginton-Smith said he envisions his process as one part of the solution to the Cape’s wastewater problem.
“If we can remove the nutrients from the water and help to bring about the restoration of the coastal ecosystem, if we can also remove substantial volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere then we’re also having a positive impact on the atmospheric pollution,” he said.
His idea of powering the system by converting algae to energy is a key part of the process.
“If we’re going to be moving forward and making the decision to solve the problem of the wastewater, while we’re engaging in that solution, we should be trying to accomplish as much as we can to help to bring about more sustainable communities on Cape Cod and around the world. It just makes sense and that’s the model that we’re following,” he said.
Braginton-Smith said the initial cost for the South Yarmouth site will be $2.2 million to $4.3 million. The project has already received a $900,000 grant from the Bi-National Industrial Reserach and Development Foundation (BIRD).
Braginton-Smith said he expects a couple of stakeholders who would use the wastewater treatment for their properties would also contribute. “We’re the majority of the way there,” he said of funding. “We fully expect that this will be fully capitalized and moving forward.”
The permitting process is just beginning, he said. He estimated 18 months for the regulatory process to complete and the system to begin treating wastewater with the algae process he has developed.
“I’m not saying our wastewater treatment plants are going to be the salvation of the global warming, but every step that we take that consumes CO2 and sequesters it is beneficial,” he said.

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Gold in faeces 'is worth millions and could save the environment'


Gold in faeces 'is worth millions and could save the environment'

Geologist suggests extracting precious metals from human waste would keep harmful substances out of the ground – and recover valuable objects

Fortunes could be saved from going down the drain by extracting gold and precious metals from human excrement, scientists suggest.
Sewage sludge contains traces of gold, silver and platinum at levels that would be seen as commercially viable by traditional prospectors. “The gold we found was at the level of a minimal mineral deposit,” said Kathleen Smith, of the US Geological Survey.
Smith and her colleagues argue that extracting metals from waste could also help limit the release of harmful metals, such as lead, into the environment in fertilisers and reduce the amount of toxic sewage that has to be buried or burnt.
“If you can get rid of some of the nuisance metals that currently limit how much of these biosolids we can use on fields and forests, and at the same time recover valuable metals and other elements, that’s a win-win,” she said.
A previous study, by Arizona State University, estimated that a city of 1 million inhabitants flushed about $13m (£8.7m) worth of precious metals down toilets and sewer drains each year.
The task of sifting sewage for microscopic quantities of gold may sound grim, but it could have a variety of unexpected benefits over traditional gold mining. The use of powerful chemicals, called leachates, used by the industry to pull metals out of rock is controversial, because these chemicals can be devastating to ecosystems when they leak into the environment. In the controlled setting of a sewage plant, the chemicals could be used liberally without the ecological risks.
Precious metals are increasingly used in everyday products, such as shampoos, detergents and even clothes, where nanoparticles are sometimes used to limit body odour. Waste containing these metals all ends up being funnelled through sewage treatment plants, where many metals end up in the leftover solid waste. “There are metals everywhere,” Smith noted.
More than 7m tonnes of “biosolids” come out of US sewage treatment plants each year, about half of which is burned or sent to landfill and half used as fertiliser on fields and in forests. In the UK, about 500,000 tonnes of dry sewage solids are used as fertiliser each year. The amount of waste that can be converted into fertiliser is limited, in part, by the high levels of some metals.
“We’re interested in collecting valuable metals that could be sold, including some of the more technologically important metals, such as vanadium and copper that are in cell phones, computers and alloys,” Smith said.
To assess the viability of mining sewage, the team collected samples from small towns in the Rocky Mountains, rural communities and big cities, and used a scanning electron microscope to observe microscopic quantities of gold, silver and platinum.
In findings presented on Monday at the 249th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Denver, the scientists showed that the levels of the precious levels were comparable with those found in some commercial mines.
The eight-year study, which involved monthly testing of treated sewage samples, found that 1kg of sludge contained about 0.4mg gold, 28mg of silver, 638mg copper and 49mg vanadium.
A sewage treatment facility in Tokyo that has already started extracting gold from sludge has reported a yield rivalling those found in ore at some leading gold mines.
Elsewhere, sewage plants are removing phosphorus and nitrogen, which can be sold as fertiliser. A Swedish treatment plant is testing the feasibility of making bioplastics from wastewater. Earlier this year, Bill Gates demonstrated his confidence in a radical sewage purification system by drinking a glass of clean water extracted from human waste."
Diatom Algae can perhaps be used to remove Gold and Silver from sewage.
Diatoms have been used to remove heavy metals, so they may consume Gold and Silver too.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Recycling of nutrients may be the key to saving Earth


Recycling of nutrients may be the key to saving Earth

Leakages of nutrients necessary for food production -- especially nitrogen and phosphorus -- cause severe eutrophication to the Earth's aquatic ecosystems and promote climate change. However, this threat also hides an opportunity. An enhancement of the nutrient economy creates new business models and enables developing recycling technology into an export.

More sustainable use of nutrients and new technological innovations connected to the recycling of nutrients have been studied in the NUTS -- Transition towards Sustainable Nutrient Economy in Finland project. A globally unique nutrient footprint, which can be used to measure the use of the main nutrients, i.e. nitrogen and phosphorus, has also been developed in the project. This is a shared project of the Lappeenranta University of Technology (LUT) and the Natural Resources Institute Finland (LUKE), and it belongs to the Green Growth -- Towards a Sustainable Future programme of Tekes (Finnish Funding Agency for Innovation).
"There are already some nutrient separation and recycling techniques available, but not all of them are presently commercially viable. For example, there is plenty of nitrogen in the atmosphere, but binding it to fertilisers is currently a highly energy-intensive process. When nitrogen is released to the atmosphere, a new input of energy is required to reutilise the released nutrient. This is wastage, and nutrients should be recycled," explains Mirja Mikkilä, the project manager of the NUTS project.
Waste water treatment is the weakest link
The treatment of the waste water of communities is the weakest link of the nutrient cycle. Nutrients can be recovered from waste water, but until now, different processes have primarily been used for the recovery. However, research findings indicate that it is possible to simultaneously remove phosphorus and nitrogen from waste water. The reuse of nutrients is also lacking, the utilisation rate of phosphorus is less than 50 per cent and of nitrogen less than 10 per cent.
It is possible to slow down the eutrophication of the Baltic Sea through fishing and removal of plant biomass. "For example, nutrients can be removed by fishing cyprinid fish, which also improves the populations of other fish consumed as food. Of course, required actions are always dependent on the situation, and sanitation procedures must always be cost-effective before they become commonplace," Mikkilä notes.
According to Mikkilä, thermal processing of waste water sludge can also be used to separate nutrients and heavy metals from each other. Moreover, cultivation of algae in connection with district heating power plants and water treatment plants would be resource effective. Algae are powerful photosynthesizers.
"Combining the production of biogas and fortified recycled nutrients is one of the key technologies for a sustainable nutrient economy. It is officially a matter of waste processing, but one in which organogenic raw material is processed into recycled nutrients used for fertilisation and into raw material for humus and biogas," Mikkilä explains.
The food system must be changed
Historical development of the food system has resulted in the nutrient economy becoming established in its current, unsustainable state. It is possible to produce enough food for the 9 billion people on Earth in 2050, but this requires a radical change in both the food system and attitudes. There is a need for more vegetarian and seasonal food and for local recycling. Furthermore, food wastage must be contained and side streams of food must be utilised by recycling nutrients back into food production.
"We should be able to perform global division of labour and introduce in vitro meat, grasshoppers and worms into our diets. The global transportation of fresh produce is also ineffective. In the future, dried food will be transported instead of water. All in all, such combinations would make the food selection fairly versatile," Mikkilä considers.
According to Mikkilä, there are bottlenecks based on institutional structures, the market economy and people's set of values that slow down the transition towards the recycling and fair use of nutrients, and she evaluates that changing the system will take 20 to 30 years"
Comment -
Unfortunately there is no mention of use of the nutrients in sewage to grow algae for use a fish feed.
This is the simplest way to recycle nutrients.

Monday, December 15, 2014

Two new diatom species found in Lonar lake


Two new diatom species found in Lonar lake

PUNE: Scientists have discovered two new species of diatoms - a kind of algae - at Lonar Lake in Buldhana district in Maharashra.

Though the environment of soda lakes is usually considered hostile for living beings, often many photosynthesizing organisms like algae, including diatoms are recorded in these places. The Lonar crater lake is a unique saline soda lake formed when a meteor struck around 50,000 years ago, and the discovery of new species points to the thriving biodiversity of the lake.

Karthick Balasubramanian, a scientist in the plant division at Agharkar Research Institute (ARI) and one of the four researchers who discovered these species, explained that diatoms are one of the most ecologically significant group of organisms and each species is specific to their environment with unique characteristics. "These two species were found to be extremely pollution-tolerant, indicating the presence of large quantities of Nitrogen and Phosphate in the water body," he said.

Scientists from city-based ARI have been studying the microbial biodiversity of this ancient lake for more than a decade.

The two species are named Nitzschia kociolekii and Nitzschia tripudio. The first species is named afterProfessor J Patrick Kociolek, of the University of Colorado at Boulder, USA, a known face of diatom research.

"Diatoms are special types of algae that live inside 'glass houses' - they have hard outer shells made of silicon and oxygen, the same elements that make up glass," Balasubramanian said. These outer casings are made of two half cylinders that fit together like a jewellery box. Inside is a single celled organism that can carry out photosynthesis and they are responsible for almost one fourth of the oxygen produced on Earth.

The other scientists involved in the study were Alakananda Batni from Gubbi Labs, Bangalore, Paul B Hamilton from Canadian Museum of Nature, Ottawa, Canada and Jonathan C Taylor associated with North-West University, Potchefstroom, South Africa.

The species are characterized by minute structures on its surface, known as areolae on diatom valves, that helps in exchange of gases and nutrients. The areolae and the valve shape state the evolutionary pattern of common species due to extreme environments like saline conditions and nutrients.

"This discovery is also significant as this is a relatively unexplored region of peninsular India," Balasubramanian added. "These species also show environmental importance and can be used as biological indicators, as they thrive in polluted regions and could be endemic to Peninsular India."

Another species of the same organism, Nitzschia williamsii, was recently described from Bangalore lakes by the same team and has also been recorded from Lonar Lake. This indicates that several extreme waterbodies in India, like Mangrove forests, estuaries, and waterfalls, might harbor numerous species endemic to Peninsular India.

Friday, December 5, 2014

Newsweek cover - Planet Reboot: Fighting Climate Change With Geoengineering


Planet Reboot: Fighting Climate Change With Geoengineering

Walking the Plankton

The world’s oceans have countless tiny organisms called phytoplankton. Also known as microalgae, these itty-bitty plants eat carbon dioxide from the water and release oxygen into the ocean as a by-product. Once the phytoplankton blooms take up the carbon from the ocean’s surface, they sink down to the deep ocean, where the carbon is effectively sequestered. They’re so productive that scientists think phytoplankton produce about 50 percent of the oxygen humans breathe.
If we could get phytoplankton to boost their uptake of carbon, it could have a huge global impact—and would be very simple to do. When the tiny plants get a boost of nutrients from the water around them, they eat a lot more carbon. And right now the oceans of the world are low in one particular nutrient—iron—although scientists aren’t sure why. So the phytoplankton aren’t nearly as active as they could be. In fact, when big storms blow iron-rich dust into the oceans, satellites see evidence of phytoplankton blooms in areas where they normally aren’t visible.
Over the past decade there have been more than 12 small-scale experiments in which scientists (and one rogue California businessman named Russ George) dumped iron dust into the ocean to test the hypothesis that phytoplankton could be triggered to wake up and start devouring mass quantities of carbon. All of the experiments (except George’s) showed that there was some benefit to seeding the ocean with iron.
Victor Smetacek, a biological oceanographer at Germany’s Alfred Wegener Institute for Polar and Marine Research, contributed to one such study in 2009. Though he says there needs to be a lot more research into ocean seeding, he believes it’s a very promising option. “I’m talking about using a natural mechanism that has already proven itself,” Smetacek says. “We need to harness the biosphere and see where we can apply levers to lift the carpet and sweep some of the carbon under.”

Oddly, however, the ocean-seeding option seems to be a controversial one. Smetacek says that although he believes strongly in its benefits, it has never been a popular option among climate scientists. “This ocean iron fertilization is highly unpopular with technocratic geoengineers because it involves biology. But we have to get the biosphere to help,” he says. “The only thing we can do is try and nudge the biosphere as much as possible and try to open up as many carbon sinks as possible.”