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‘Scientific Undertaking’

CLA Optimistic After Army Corps Algae Work

AECOM engineers process collected algae through a screw machine to create pellets at the Chautauqua Lake Association workshop in Lakewood as part of a pilot program with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Photo courtesy of the Chautauqua Lake Association

A groundbreaking pilot program was completed on Chautauqua Lake last week, as scientists and engineers from across the country conducted testing and evaluation of new harmful algal bloom mitigation technology.

The Harmful Algal Bloom Interception, Treatment, and Transformation System (HABITATS) program was conducted by the Engineer Research and Development Center, a laboratory of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and AECOM Engineering at sites in Lakewood and Bemus Point.

In the weeks leading up to the pilot the Los Angeles, Ca.-based AECOM contacted the Chautauqua Lake Association to coordinate.

“We were talking about the lake and algal performance,” CLA Executive Director Doug Conroe said. “They were just doing I think good due diligence as to what to expect when they came and where the highest areas of algae content would be likely. I said to them, ‘Why don’t you use our site right here?’ We are situated in the area of the lake that you’d like to be in. We can provide you with support services, no charge.”

The CLA workshop would ultimately serve as a base of operations for alga collecting, processing and scientific research, with another team working out of Long Point State Park.

“They had a good number of very qualified scientists working here,” Conroe said. ‘There were two separate operations but they coordinated and communicated. So there was a good bit of back-and-forth between the two. Here (in Lakewood) was the land-side operation part and we had present people from all over that came in. AECOM brought in people from Denver, Colo., Albany, Tallahassee, Fla. Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., and a number of other places.”

First deployed in Florida in 2019, HABITATS pilot programs use specialized barges to collect alga from concentrated blooms, where it is then processed using hydrothermal liquefaction and turned into pellets.

The goal of the pilot trials is to study the effectiveness of the process so that it can be improved for future use, and to determine how the alga products might be used as fertilizers and biofuels.

“It was a scientific undertaking,” Conroe said. “This was a good eye-opener to another alternative that hasn’t been on the table. I really think it needs to be explored further. They will tell you as they told me, they aren’t the end all solution to harmful algal blooms. It is going to take a number of actions.”

If the HABITATS system is viable and cost effective, it could be deployed to areas experiencing serious algal blooms as a solution.

“We’re positive about it because it is so environmentally friendly. There is no pollution as a result of it,” Conroe said. “They are very optimistic that it could be a tool to be used on Chautauqua Lake hot spots, targeted hot spots. Thinking that you are going to go out and turn 13,000 acres of green water into clear water, they don’t believe that is a reality. But they do believe where we have targeted areas of serious concentrations of harmful toxic blooms, that this can address those. That is what they want to try next.”

Conroe said that teams deployed in Lakewood and Bemus Point were using variations on the process, in order to determine what might work well in the future.

Throughout the pilot, samples of water and alga were analyzed by Army Corps scientists, and sent back to ERDC headquarters in Vicksburg, Miss.

Reflecting on the program, Conroe was optimistic from his time spent working with AECOM.

“One of the things that I was very impressed with this organization was, if they had a corporate profit motive that would overrule everything, I didn’t see it,” he said. “What I saw were sincere scientists working in a scientific environment to see what works and what doesn’t work. They weren’t promoting something to make it work.”

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