Algae expertise aids Trump golf course

James Goodman writes in the democratandchronicle.com about Jeffrey Lodge, an associate professor of biological sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology, who knows what it takes to break down a wide range of wastes and how to maximize their reuse. His work using algae to clean wastewater has attracted the attention of RIT alum Ed Russo, who has handled environmental issues for billionaire mogul Donald Trump’s golf courses and last summer contacted Lodge to enlist his expertise.

Russo wants Lodge and his associates to help clean sewage wastewater in the Miami area by using algae to absorb contaminants so that it might be used instead of more expensive drinking water to keep a public golf course – the Crandon Park Golf Course – green. The course would be managed through Trump Endeavor LLC.

The wastewater that would be treated by the algae would have already gone through most of the cleansing processes at the sewage treatment plant. Algae in a 20,000-gallon tank next to the plant would provide additional cleaning. If all goes according to plan, the treated water would be suitable for use on the Crandon course, which uses about 285,000 gallons of water a day.

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Jeffrey Lodge is associate professor of biological sciences at Rochester Institute of Technology. Photo: James Goodman

Lodge and mechanical engineering professor Ali Ogut have successfully tried what they want to do in Florida on a small scale at the Webster Wastewater Treatment Plant in 2012. There are still plenty of hoops for this project to jump through – most notably whether Trump will get the OK from Miami-Dade County officials to run the Crandon course.

And while the algae cleaning is part of the Trump management plan, a pilot project to have Ogut’s Environmental Energy give a limited amount of sewage wastewater from the Miami area an extra cleaning with algae is being explored, and could proceed even if the golf course proposal remains in limbo.

Miami-Dade parks officials are aware that there have been discussions between the Trump organization and the county’s Water and Sewer officials. But Doris Howe, spokeswoman for the Parks Department, added that the county also is engaged in separate discussions with Honeywell International Inc. to develop a facility to provide reclaimed water for use at the Crandon course. “We have recognized that water is a big expense. We are using drinking water. We are trying to develop sustainable, cost-effective alternatives,” Howe said.

Lodge says that the kind of microalgae he uses has the potential for making wastewater more reusable, without producing the toxins found in lake algae. He attributes any reluctance to pursue the full potential of algae as a cleansing agent to a knee-jerk aversion to any kind of algae and the yuck-factor of wastewater. “People, especially in the fuel industry, I think, don’t want to handle wastewater,” said Lodge.

Lodge said he realizes there are limits to the algae technology but that it would certainly work for the Crandon golf course in Florida.

Russo, who according to a 2011 Washington Post article oversees most of the environmental work on Trump’s golf courses, similarly sees a role for the algae treatment, which is why he contacted Lodge last summer, after reading about his work. “There are some places that I believe his method can be used to significantly improve water quality,” said Russo.

The Trump organization, said Russo, is willing to put up about $50,000 to help with the project. Environmental Energy Technologies Inc., where Ali Ogut is founder and president, would run the pilot, cleaning 10,000 to 20,000 gallons of wastewater a day in a 20,000-gallon tank with algae on the grounds of the treatment facility.

Currently, this wastewater is not clean enough to use on the golf course or for other uses that might result in runoff into the nearby waters along the shoreline because the wastewater doesn’t meet pollution standards.

But with additional algae treatment, such irrigation use might be permitted. “It will take up the contaminants,” said Lodge.

Any biofuel made from the algae used in this process would be in future plans. The cleansed water would be put back into the treatment plant during the pilot phase. “We’re betting on the fact that what we did at 1,000 gallons can have success in a scaled-up version,” Ogut said.

 

Photo: Crandon Park Golf Course at Key Biscayne, Florida.

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