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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Development and Testing of an Automated, Submerged Filamentous Algae Harvester

This project is part of an ongoing effort to develop a commercially viable operation that would grow and harvest the algae in the rivers that feed into the Chesapeake Bay. The algae would grow off of screens that are attached to our craft. The algae grown and harvested through the design would remove excess nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus, which has caused eutrophication within the Chesapeake Bay. The algae itself can also be harvested and used for numerous products, such as biofuels or catalytic substrates. The goal of this summer is to produce a commercially viable system that can cover an acre of water surface, with a harvesting procedure that would be automated and require minimal maintenance. Throughout the summer we hope to test at least two possible designs and determine the most effective harvesting techniques and schedules, while maximizing the algae growth.