Algae operation awaiting grant award news

[USA] Progress is being made on the Susquehanna Algal Remediation Project in Marina Park that could lead to a cleaner Chesapeake Bay.

Jay Diedzic, president of Blackrock Algae LLC, said the Chesapeake and Atlantic Coastal Bays Trust Fund grant awards will be announced by July 1 and will signal the start of a three-year pilot project located in Port Deposit’s popular park.

Until this year the trust only had $10 million to distribute, according to Diedzic. That money came from several Maryland programs, including the Chesapeake Bay license plates.

“But Gov. Larry Hogan raised the amount of money in the pot,” Diedzic said Friday, adding Blackrock Algae’s request is for $5 million of the $50 million fund. “This covers everything for the three years.”

According to Diedzic, operations will have minimal cost compared to construction.

Courtesy of Blackrock Algae, LLC
Courtesy of Blackrock Algae, LLC

“We’d have people checking on it daily, taking samples to optimize,” he said.

Operating just 240 days each year, Diedzic said the plant would rest in the winter and no water can be drawn from the river during shad spawning season.

Meanwhile, Diedzic and Port Deposit town administrator Vicky Rinkerman participated in a permitting consortium in Annapolis on Wednesday. At the table were representatives from Maryland Department of the Environment, Maryland Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“With all the conversations we’ve had with all these agencies … they’ve been very supportive,” Diedzic said.

The permitting phase alone will take a year, he said.

Between the intake and the discharge of the water Blackrock Algae brings into its system — to be constructed near the wastewater treatment plant — algae will be introduced.

“Algae loves to clean stuff,” said Sam A. Manning, a member of their advisory board, said, noting the process allows the algae in collection tanks to remove sediment, nitrogen and phosphorous. “And we return it (to the river) clean and more oxygenated.”

While not part of the Port Deposit plans, Manning said Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Va., has a project that runs the effluent from wastewater treatment plants through the same system make the discharge that much cleaner.

“In the future, we’d like to hook it to the wastewater treatment plant,” Diedzic said, noting the operation is on less than half an acre near the county-operated plant.

Among the major differences with this project is that the screens will be built vertically rather than horizontal to allow for more growth on a smaller footprint. Diedzic said this project will have tall tanks on land, but on platforms to acknowledge the town’s propensity for flooding.

Rinkerman said the project would take up very little space in the park, which is popular with anglers.

“It’s to the south end of the wastewater treatment plant, just enough area for them to do the study,” she said, noting the town got assurances from the company that its project would not hinder park operations.

Once the system is running, there would be tweaks to adjust flow and tests of other technologies, which could be introduced at a later time, Manning said.

“We’re looking at different pulsations and the velocity of the water,” he said. “Even lighting to stimulate growth at night.”

Once the three-year pilot is complete, there’s the possibility that Port Deposit could take over the use of the dried algae and sell it for such things as compost, fertilizer or bio-fuel production.

“It’s an evolving technology,” Rinkerman said. “We have to look at all the ways to use this harvested algae.”

According to All About Algae, there are currently more than 50 research projects and at least 100 companies working toward making algae a marketable commodity. In the United States alone, more than $1 billion has been invested in research and development, calling it a potential trillion dollar market.

“We could turn it into paraffin and sell it to refineries,” Diedzic added, noting that the paraffin has multiple applications from bio-fuel to emollients in skin care products. “We don’t know what type of algae we’ll get. Each location is site specific.”


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