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How I (mis)Spent The Summer Of 2006
by Patrick Ward
Photos by Patrick Ward

The 101 st Fertilizer Wing was tasked with the logistical challenge
of making the first lagoon's phosphorous levels go sky high!

Their mission accomplished, this lagoon then held the phosphorous- laden water...

...until new rainfall washed it into a second lagoon.

Here, a stew of three green algae blooms was  naturally brewed; a pico-algae, a slightly filamentary algae, and a high–oil content diatom!

Note that the natural algal-oil foam bubbles, are already forming on the waters surface!

As the oil and proteins from the brewing algae stew spilled into the nearby James River the turbulent whitewater rapids, whipped air into the mixture. A stiff, persistent, frothy foam was formed!

The James River Mystery Foam event, of 2006 had begun. Note that the sun has begun to erode the top of the snow-white foam even, while new white foam is accumulating at the bottom. The darkening at the top, is caused, as the natural algae oils, are increasingly concentrated, in the sun degraded top layers.

Naturally occurring river foams, such as these, have been reported at waterfalls, on the Rhine River in Switzerland, and at Grand Rapids Michigan, and in the Potomac River rapids.

Entire River basins, are occasionally, or repeatedly foamed, as was the case at Richmond, Virginia, in the summer of 2006 during the ‘James River Mystery Foam” phenomena. Algae oil-to-biofuels researchers, should scrutinize such naturally occurring, high algal-oil production events, very carefully, to try to locate the root-cause conditions, and locate the naturally occurring, high-oil production, biological organisms, to see if they can be harnessed to produce biofuels.

Isolating the algal oil source was not going to be easy, since The lagoon water samples contained three different algae that competed for nutrients in the small aquarium style photobioreactors.

At first, picoalgae dominated due to extremely fast growth rate, which swamped the diatoms and filament algae with sheer cell numbers!

I had to repeatedly wash, the heavier diatoms free of the invading picoalgae, and filament algae, just so that the diatoms, the picoalgae
and the filament algae could be separated and grown in different photobioreactors.

This was done, by repeatedly allowing the diatoms to settle, and then
carefully, and very slowly pouring off the chlorine free clear wash water.

After numerous careful washings, the wash water becomes clear, as unwanted filament algae and the picoalgae are washed away!
The heavier Green diatoms have settled to the bottom.

The filament algae can also be removed easily by simply using a small fishnet. Unfortunately, the picoalgae can only be removed by repeated washing since they are far too small to filter in the net.

The filament algae are now growing, separately,
in a small hexagonal photobioreactor.

Now that picoalgae has been removed, the diatoms now are growing,
with ample sunlight, in a clear, clean, photobioreactor, resulting in
much more rapid cell divisions.

With plenty of light, supplied soluble silicates, micronutrients, and piped in CO 2 gas, the diatoms turn a lush green and enter a vegetative growth spurt, rapidly metabolizing the silicon, and reproducing sexually, to produce the brand new, and “highly silacious, “ full sized adult diatoms, each capable of many more of the asexual cell divisions needed to rapidly and geometrically increase cell total counts.

In this photoioreactor, the soluble silicon that diatoms need, for either asexual cell division, or for sexual multiplication, has been deleted. Here the fresh green, vegetative diatoms are starved for silicon, forcing them to stop rapid cell division and instead begin TAG synthesis, instead of producing mainly sugars, they now produce and store oils for “hard times.” Oil-laden, they now turn yellowish!

Note that an algal oil slick has now appeared on top of the water, as the oil-laden diatoms begin to leak oils. Oily foams, are now forming in this oil-production photobioreactor.

Note the large oily bubble that has formed at the water line at the lower right corner.

Carbon Dioxide, is piped into these small, simple, photobioreactors, under pressure, so the algae can breathe well, and so that they will maximize cell division and oil production. Air is also pumped in, as a simple way to lower the oxygen partial pressure, during daylight (so the algae will not suffocate in dissolved exhaled oxygen, which is toxic waste gas to algae during daylight photosynthesis) as well as at night. The CO 2 reaction recipe ingredients are shown above.

½ ounce of Blackstrap Molasses is added to a quart of chlorine free water. Mix 1 packet of dry yeast with ½ cup of 115 ° F chlorine free warm water and mix the yeast into the water, before adding the yeast-water into the pressure cooker. Add 4 heaping teaspoons of brown sugar, and stir. Close lid, and allow pressure buildup!

Two extra ¼ inch MPT to ¼ inch tubing barb adaptors and a ¼ inch female coupling has been added to the lid of the pressure cooker to permit injecting pressurized air into and under the yeast-sugar-molasses solution while the cover is closed. This “process air feed” allows the yeast to ferment the sugar-molasses solution to make carbon dioxide for the algae to breathe, and also some ethanol biofuel. Without this “process air feed” the fermentation reaction which is aerobic (not anaerobic like the ABE fermentation process) would soon cease for lack of oxygen input!

The inner “process air feed” pipe barb connects to a short piece of ¼ inch OD polyethylene tubing which has a “T” fitting connected to two small blue aquarium “air diffuser stones” which are submerged in the yeast broth when the lid is closed.

By using yeast fermentation both air and CO 2 gas are piped into the photobioreactors when the light is available to photosynthesize
sugars or oils.
At sunset, since photosynthesis stops, and CO 2 generation then becomes unneeded, and undesirable (algae still need to consume some oxygen at night ).
At sunset, photo-eye switch turns off the “process air feed” pump, that aerates the pressure cooker/yeast reactor, terminating CO 2 generation until the sunrise.

©2006 Patrick Ward
22 August 2006 2006


With Best regards
Patrick Ward
Richmond VA







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