Results: Algae Craft

The whirlwind of summer research has come to a close and I can talk about some of the progress we have made. Right up until the last day of research we were adding adjustments to the craft and fixing everything to get it ready to go out onto the York River. The last we week we completed installing the rest of our craft with the substantial supports and safety chains to make sure if the cross pieces came off the poles they would still be fastened to the craft. We implemented a much simpler yet still secure design where we could take the screens off by just unscrewing one screw. Once we finished the adjustments we took out our screens so that we could tow the craft into the river without tearing the screens. We were able to clearly see all the algae that we had grown and note the growth. We were not as concerned about how much algae was growing or what type of algae it was, which would be more of the focus when we started to harvest the algae. We cleared the screens of the algae and secured them to the craft.

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The Final Adjustments to our craft

These past two weeks we went out to VIMS to continue changing out the parts for screen system. It proved to be tedious since we had to drill through our aluminum framing pieces while floating on the water. Luckily we were precise enough for everything to fit fine, but it could have been an issue if our screws did not fit correctly. In addition to securing the screens with an aluminum piece on top of them, we also had to make sure the spacing was correct. For that we used drop in fasteners that screwed in small pieces of angle iron that kept the PVC canes 6 inches apart. On our second trip we also took out the screens, cleared most of the algae off and secured them on the platform of the craft. Tomorrow we should be able to help take the craft out onto the river and install the screens back into the water. Once we’re out onto the water we will have to contend with turbulence from the river, currents, and anything else Mother Nature throws at us.

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Figuring out what works best

The problem with science is that you never get it right the first time or the second time or even the hundredth time. The key is to always keep chugging along with ideas and plans and hoping for the best, while expecting the worst. That pretty much sums up all our work this summer. We’ve gone through numerous designs for the pulley and finally settled on a quite simplistic setup that should make it very simple for now. We’ve also replaced the cross plates where our screens were attached. There were just numerous issues that now seem so clear, yet three weeks ago I probably couldn’t have imagined them.

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We have algae!

We have finally seen the algae! It looks like how someone would expect to see algae. It’s a green brownish color and is slimy. Of all the plants that grow in the world it’s definitely not the most interesting in terms of looks or aesthetics, but it very well might be the next part of the solution to our energy crisis. In comparison to other alternative sources of energy like wind and solar, it is really easy to collect. We do not need any fancy expensive equipment or to worry about weather conditions (at least not too much). We are simply sticking screens in the water and letting algae grow and then raise the screens out and start scrapping some of the algae off of the screens. If this sounds tedious to you, that is because it is and part of my project that I will start working on now that we have the algae growing is making it simpler to collect.

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How exactly are we going to collect algae?

I did not know what to expect when I began my summer research here at W&M. I understood the overall goals and had a very slight idea of how we were exactly going to accomplish our goals, but now I realize there are a lot more moving parts than I first expected. A major part of my research so far has been trying to take certain designs and translate them into parts for our craft. The main part of the craft that I have been concerned with creating has been the screens where the algae will grow on. The screens will go on the inside of the craft and run parallel to the length of the craft. They are broken into two sections that are about 18 feet long. The screens are wrapped around and clamped onto PVC “canes”. The canes were bent so that they could hang onto the edges of the craft. To make harvesting easier I also worked to design and create a pulley system that would simplify raising the canes out of the water to collect the algae. To design the pulley system we mounted the aluminum framing (which holds the pulleys) onto poles, which attach directly to the craft.

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