The EcoTech Complex: Working with Nature

[USA] In modern times, we face unprecedented challenges in regard to energy, carbon emissions, other greenhouse gases, water supply, and wastewater treatment. In current statistics:

  • Worldwide energy consumption has grown to nearly 600 exajoules per year, up from about 350 exajoules in 1980. About 68% of power plants worldwide are fossil fuel plants.
  • Carbon emissions worldwide have soared to approximately 35 billion tons of carbon dioxide, up from about 19 billion tons in 1980, and continue to increase.
  • Landfills emit large quantities of methane into the atmosphere worldwide. This gas greatly increases the greenhouse effect, being 30 times more potent than carbon dioxide.
  • Current water use worldwide is about 4.7 billion cubic meters. That is up from about 2.5 billion cubic meters in 1970. Within the next 40 years, the world’s population is projected to increase by another 40 – 50%. This population growth and increasing demand for water is projected to have serious consequences on society and the environment. Drinking water will dwindle in many locations, and wastewater will increase.

In the past, we have used approaches that work against nature and create imbalances in the environment. However, we believe that if we work with nature, and not against it, the detrimental trends above can be slowed and reversed, and the needs of the future in energy, water, and sanitation can be met in abundance, while we also restore the environment.

NATURE’S POWERFUL LESSONS

When I was a college student, I had a job assisting scientists in evaluating the water quality of rivers and other streams throughout the state of Georgia. Although we took chemical samples from each stream for analysis, we could tell how polluted the stream was without them. With a simple examination of the life growing in a stream, we could instantly get an accurate picture of its water quality. If stonefly larvae, mayfly nymphs and caddisfly larvae were present, we knew the stream was healthy. If none of those species were living in the stream, and we could see only thousands of flatworms, we knew the stream was highly polluted with carbon-based waste of some kind. Once we shut down the polluters, the stream would gradually return to normal.

I viewed the situation with the streams as a matter of balance. Human activities had pushed the chemistry of the water out of balance, which had a detrimental effect on the environment – specifically, the ecology of the stream. But nature has a powerful ability to heal when it is not out of balance. I learned to respect that.

We are told that the simplest living cell is many orders of magnitude more complex than the entire non-living universe, including all 1080 atoms in existence. Living things are truly a wonder to behold, and there are so many answers we can glean from observing nature in action.

But the typical thinking in modern society has been to develop technologies in a vacuum to accomplish a singular goal, without any specific regard to natural processes. This is true of industrial plants and power plants, and even technologies used to remediate their emissions. We try to capture carbon artificially from the air and inject it underground, hoping it never escapes. We capture solar energy using solar panels which are not economical. We use bacteria to treat wastewater in a very carbon-intensive and energy-intensive process. But nature has better ways of doing these things to restore balance and also meet human needs.

The plant kingdom, of course, captures carbon dioxide, fixes carbon into its structure, and releases oxygen in nature. The plant kingdom also uses the sun to effectively store energy that we can access in various forms. When wastewater spills into a lake, algae grow and consume the nutrient content in the wastewater. These processes demonstrate the natural mechanisms that we should be paying attention to.

At Brisa International, we believe we should be humble in the face of nature. We respect its amazing ability to heal environmental damage. We seek to work with nature’s powerful processes, while adding modern, cutting-edge, innovative ways to channel the benefits of these processes.

THE ECOTECH COMPLEX 

Our approach at Brisa is embodied in our newly released inventive technology called the EcoTech Complex. EcoTech is “Ecology United with Technology”, with ecology coming first. What this means is that we study ecology, and then plan and implement technology with innovative approaches to facilitate and compliment the natural and beneficial processes of ecology. That is what the EcoTech Complex is all about.

To us, it is not about inventing the greatest technology for doing one thing in a vacuum. Even the best technology will inevitably have undesirable byproducts and side effects. It is about examining all local resources, including water, waste streams and other inputs and outputs of any systems already operating at a site, and designing integrated systems to restore ecological balance using the highly successful solutions in natural systems. Harmful byproducts of one system become beneficial inputs in other systems. Byproducts are turned into catalysts. With the right approaches, we have found that many byproducts or outputs which are generally considered negative, such as carbon dioxide, and wastes, may be turned into positives and used in extremely productive ways, as they are used in nature. We have discovered that we can achieve astounding efficiencies by working the problem this way.

The EcoTech Complex brings together many different types of systems in order to provide a comprehensive and synergistic approach to meeting human needs. Some technology examples in the Complex include a power plant, a wastewater treatment plant, a recycling plant, a combustion-based waste-to-energy/biomass plant, a biofuel plant, a refinery, a packaging plant, and optionally a desalination plant. These different systems are brought together, and designed to share inputs, outputs, and infrastructure in ways that greatly increase efficiency and reduce environmental impact. The EcoTech’s many patent pending synergistic connections increase the value and effectiveness of each of these systems.

But, in all of the wonder of having so much raw capability, we had to make sure we were operating within our principles of good stewardship of the ecosystem and balance. These different systems grouped together in our plan form an ecosystem. Power plants are, if you will, in the animal kingdom – they uptake oxygen, oxidize organic matter by combustion and output carbon dioxide in the same way animals uptake oxygen and metabolize organic material into carbon dioxide. A wastewater treatment plant uses bacterial processes to break down organic material, releasing carbon dioxide – animal kingdom. A desalination plant requires a large energy input, which is typically generated by a power plant on the grid – animal kingdom. Combustion-based waste-to-energy plants oxidize organic material to generate energy – animal kingdom. The problem in our society is that we have built too many hungry animals, without balancing them out with the plant kingdom.

We have reestablished that balance in our EcoTech Complex, by creating an ecosystem involving a symbiotic relationship between the plant and animal kingdoms in these major systems. The EcoTech Complex is a combined biological and mechanical ecosystem.

When Brisa International started this project nearly seven years ago, achieving such a balance seemed too futuristic and out of reach. But after years of intense research and inventive efforts in biology, chemistry, and engineering, we have developed the means to restore that balance. And when it is restored, the results are astounding, both environmentally and economically. It is possible to achieve energy independence and low to zero net carbon even with all of these major industrial systems in play.

We believe the energy vs. environment paradigm has now changed. We believe there no longer a need for competition between economics and the environment. We believe we have come to the point, due to invention and wise integration of technologies, that the best environmental approaches are also becoming the best economic approaches, if we pay attention to nature, learn its lessons, and implement its wisdom with judicious thinking that is outside the box.

THE SOLUTION

So how do we restore the balance we need so desperately between the plant and animal kingdoms? Do we go out and plant a tree for every equivalent amount of fossil fuels we use? Of course that is not a real solution. While reforestation efforts are admirable and important, the issue is that arable land often must be used to grow crops or for other uses. Biofuels are a potential answer to replace petro fuels. However, there is still the problem of land use, and competition with food crops. Cellulosic ethanol also has largely fallen short of expectations. There has not been enough efficiency in land use to make biofuels a major factor on the energy landscape. There is only one real solution to the problem – algae. Please note the following comparison.

Brisa-Infographic

The table presents some astounding results. While all of the plants shown are used commonly for biofuels, algae far outstrips the highest producers in terms of growth. What becomes evident very quickly, is that algae theoretically is the only biofuel crop capable of the achieving the land use efficiency necessary to balance human activities. And based on these numbers, algae can accomplish it without even breaking a sweat.

It is mainly due to its astounding growth rate, and the ability to grow algae on non-arable land. For example, in the United States, corn has been used extensively to produce ethanol. It has been estimated that in order to replace all of the transportation fuels used in the USA, the amount of corn needed would take twice the total land area of the whole country. However, algae could replace all of the transportation fuel needs of the United States using an area about the size of a single small state – Maryland, according to the US Department of Energy.

The high growth rate of algae has been known for more than 30 years. But some major technical barriers needed to be removed in order for algae to realize its potential. Past implementation efforts have been largely misguided. In our view, algae is like a star player on a sports team. It can play a major role, but it needs teammates. In baseball, the ace pitcher performs the most important role. However, the pitcher cannot be expected to also run around the field and catch every ball that is hit, or to hit all of the home runs.

Yet in the past, algae has been treated that way. It has not been implemented in efficient ways, and has not been complemented by the right technologies surrounding it and interacting with it to make it successful. The good news is that when given the right context and support systems, algae thrive on all of the waste we humans are trying to get rid of, and return to us what we, in turn, need to thrive. But the real trick is to find the right “teammates” for success. Brisa has spent many years discovering that context, and creating systems to work together to optimize algae. That idea has been a major endeavor for Brisa that has yielded a wealth of exciting and amazing inventive technology.

Brisa’s team has removed technical barriers and has integrated this high-potential technology in synergistic ways into the major industrial systems in the EcoTech Complex. With this now accomplished the algae technology has a home and has become a major transformative factor, in conjunction with other technologies in our design.

Along with its promise as a biofuel, algae technology can be adapted to provide effective wastewater treatment. In EcoTech’s systems, municipal wastewater or farm runoff can be treated to a higher degree than traditional bacteria-based systems, especially in regard to nutrient removal, and treatment is accomplished using significantly less energy. Also, in contrast to traditional wastewater treatment, an algae treatment process can reach carbon neutrality, and useful biomass is generated, which may then be used as a biofuel or to make an array of non-fuel bio-products. The EcoTech has implemented powerful innovative technology designs in order to effectively use algae in this role.

Carbon dioxide has simply gotten well out of balance today, and there are no good solutions on the horizon, except one – algae. If all of the transportation fuels in the US can be grown on non-arable land (even desert) the size of Maryland, using algae as the US DOE has said many times, and technologies like the EcoTech can make it viable, then we have truly found our solution. At present algae consume more carbon dioxide and produce more oxygen than all other plants combined! If we can grow our fuels, sacrificing minimal non-arable land, and have a zero carbon footprint, it is by far the most attainable way to reach renewable energy goals and bring the carbon equation back into balance universally. And as time goes on, the algae technology will get better and better.

At the EcoTech, we use algae to consume carbon dioxide from power plants, and waste-to-energy systems. We can then use algae fuel generated as a substitute fuel for power plants, which can then become carbon-neutral multi-pass systems. Or algae can be turned into all of the same kinds of transportation fuels and heating fuels we derive from petroleum. If all emission are captured and turned into more permanent products, such as bioplastics, the system becomes carbon negative. In sum, the EcoTech can mitigate power plant and WTE emissions, turn wastewater treatment into a carbon-neutral process, and from those inputs, create carbon-neutral biofuels. These processes can be accomplished with astounding efficiency, creating major economic benefits as well.

FLEXIBILITY AND VERSATILITY

We believe the EcoTech embodies the best solutions now and for the future, because: It works with completely natural processes that have the power to accomplish the goals society needs in water treatment, water supply, pollution abatement, green energy, biofuels and bio-products.

And it works with existing infrastructure and local resources. Many times systems are built in isolation. The result is inefficiency and environmental damage. While the EcoTech has cutting-edge designs, it is designed to also fully integrate with any existing technologies. We add new, innovative technologies to existing technologies. For example, any existing combustion-based power plant can serve as the power plant in the EcoTech design, including the most polluting, such as coal or fuel oil, or industrial plants which are major polluters, like cement factories. If some pollutants may become too excessive for the algae, Brisa has designed inventive systems to mitigate and regulate those constituents.

We focus on turning harmful outputs of different systems into catalysts in other systems. Where waste streams exist, they will become valuable resource streams in the EcoTech.

The EcoTech is flexible as to local resources in the following areas:

Water: Input to the EcoTech system may include any water type(s) available locally, including fresh water, wastewater, salt water, or brackish water. No net consumption of water is needed. Water is used to transfer materials through many levels of the design, to carry and transfer heat, to dilute, and in the algae system. All water is conserved and reused in other systems where possible. The EcoTech was designed with the perspective that every drop of water is precious.

Land: the configuration and characteristics are very flexible. The algae component is by far the most land efficient biofuel technology by far in the world, and can utilize non-arable land.

Waste Streams: The EcoTech works effectively to turn whatever waste streams are available locally – solid waste, wastewater, carbon dioxide and other harmful emissions from potential negatives to decided positives. All of these waste streams are put to use in creating energy or valuable non-fuel products at low to zero carbon footprint.

Climate: Brisa has created breakthrough approaches that enable the algae technology to thrive in just about any climate, even those normally too cold for it.

Heat: The EcoTech has the most unique means to conserve and use heat productively ever conceived in any industrial system. That is because heat is another major negative that we can turn into a major positive. In combustion-based power plants, a portion of the heat generated by the fuel is used to perform work to generate power. Another portion of the heat, however, must be removed from the system. The portion of heat that is removed is commonly referred to as “waste heat”.

Waste heat comprises approximately 40% to 75% of the heat generated. That is a huge proportion of the fuel value. In many cases, cooling water is drawn into these plants from local sources and heated to unnatural levels, and then discharged back into the environment. This can cause severe damage to the environment. In other systems, heated water is sent to evaporation towers. A portion of the water is evaporated off in order to cool the remaining water. A significant amount of water is lost as this process continues over time. That is not a good solution going forward, as water becomes more and more a critical resource.

Recently an article was published about a power plant in the United States which discharged waste heat into a nearby river. The river was heated to a point that unnatural algae blooms occurred for miles downstream of the plant. The power plant’s heated discharge had elevated the water temperature to a level that was in the “sweet spot” for accelerated algae growth. This was considered a problem, and a discussion ensued about how to kill the algae by adding chemicals to the stream.

Whoa, Nellie, talk about working against nature! We humans create a problem, and then we propose to fix it with a completely unnatural and probably much more destructive solution. Yes, we will make the stream nice and clean by killing the algae with chemicals, but how many other aspects of that ecosystem have we will also wipe out by further changing the balance of nature with not only heat, but also chemicals?

HEAT IN THE ECOTECH

But there are very good solutions to this problem. Again if we study the lessons of nature, we will realize that waste heat is a very valuable resource that can be put to good use. With about 40 to 75% of the heat generated in power plants taking the form of waste heat, a huge problem stands to become a huge opportunity.

The EcoTech puts heat to use in many innovative and productive ways. In the EcoTech plan, we are intentionally growing algae in controlled systems. Power plant waste heat is used to regulate the temperature of all algae systems using our patent pending processes.

This is another example of a teammate coming alongside the algae technology to help it. Algae can normally grow only between approximately 37ᵒ N and 37ᵒ S latitude, but with much better results in warm, stable climates. This restriction is not due to the sunlight resource, which is sufficient in many locations around the world; rather it is due to temperature. But with Brisa’s many designs to deliver waste heat, algae can now be used in a wide range of climates. This provides a huge step forward for the technology. If algae can be grown effectively throughout most of Europe, Asia, and North America, where it would normally be too cold, it greatly multiplies the versatility of the technology. These systems also serve to dissipate the waste heat gradually into the environment, where it can cause no harm.

Brisa has developed many other highly innovative ways to use waste heat in the EcoTech. These applications greatly increase the efficiency of the other systems in the design, while mitigating environmental damage. That is turning a negative into a positive!

Pollution Control: because the EcoTech uses power plant exhaust to grow algae, and we are interested in capturing emissions, as well as regulating their flows, and treating any pollutants that would harm the algae, Brisa has developed some amazing exhaust gas recovery, treatment, and regulation designs. Some of these designs may be used either with or without algae systems to reduce harmful emissions. In conjunction with algae, the results are very impressive. We feel we will be able to implement major emissions reductions in even the most polluting plants, including coal, fuel oil, incinerators, or other systems.

EcoTech can be used as a powerful means to mitigate emissions from existing power or other industrial plants. Brisa is currently in process to begin studies at six international locations where power plant pollution is a crippling issue. In two of the locations, the plants are unable to meet local emissions standards, and have been partially or fully shut down. Brisa anticipates the ability to mitigate all emissions issues at those plants, and to reclaim all of the infrastructure in place that is sitting idle. Over time, inexpensive algae biofuels may be used in the plants to replace the fuels currently causing the emissions issues, and these plants may become energy independent and near zero carbon footprint. Clean burning carbon neutral transportation fuels may also be produced.

We at Brisa International are proud to introduce the next generation in pollution control, green energy, water supply, water treatment, and waste treatment, the EcoTech Complex.

 

View original article at: The EcoTech Complex: Working with Nature

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