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NEW FUEL SOURCE? Cleaning Southwest Florida's water, by "harvesting" algae

Florida Congressman Byron Donalds (R) has introduced legislation that if passed would direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build upon an existing research project, called HABITATS.
Posted at 4:36 PM, Jun 28, 2024

SANIBEL, Fla. — It feels like every summer here in Southwest Florida, we are talking about blue-green algae and other harmful algal blooms. But what if we could turn those blooms into renewable energy. There is a bill moving through congress right now that could make that a real possibility.

Florida Congressman Byron Donalds (R) has introduced legislation that if passed would direct the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to build upon an existing research project, called HABITATS, to develop and deploy systems that filter water and convert algae biomass into renewable biofuels.

“This technology, taking these algal blooms and converting them into energy is a great thing for everybody,” said Rep. Donalds.

U.S. Army Engineer Research and Development Center started developing the harmful algal bloom interception, treatment, and transformation system or HABITATS in 2018.

“The HABITATS project, that’s basically, just think about a system that pumps water into a treatment system that can convert, grab that algae that might be growing and turn that into fuel or say a version on fuel,” says Col. James Booth, Jacksonville District Commander with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

“When we see bills like this, that are trying to capitalize on all the momentum that has been built up around water quality and take a look at the problem from a novel angle, that gets us really excited,” said Matt DePaolis, Environmental Policy Director at the Sanibel Captiva Conservation Foundation.

DePaolis Says that what’s unique about this system is it not only removes the algae, but also the nutrients that feed the bloom.

“Since they are attacking algae blooms from a different angle, is filtering the water, taking that bloom and all the associated nutrients and toxins out the water and then trying to process it into fuel off site,” said DePaolis.

While this does sound like an exciting tech, the question is, how feasible is it at scales like Lake Okeechobee.

“When we have algae here there is certainly no shortage of it, as anyone that has been in massive blue green algae bloom can tell you,”said DePaolis. “But you are right to highlight that issue of that we aren’t always having algae blooms. We are always going to have this constant supply of input and that something that people putting this technology in are going to have to address.”

Congressman Donalds didn’t seem that concerned about this question.

“Look, the feasibility of this very simple,” said Rep. Donalds. “The energy aspects are just extra. That’s the icing on the cake. The real meat of all this, is doing everything that you can when you do have algal blooms that pop up from time to time that you can quickly get to them and remove them from the water.”

When Meteorologist Andrew Shipley asked Col. Booth about the bill itself, he declined, but said.

“That is completely in Congress’s purview,” said Col. Booth. “Should Congress pass that law, Congress and this administration pass that law, we will be happy to execute any task Congress gives us.”

While the bill still must go through the committee process, Rep. Donalds is hopeful that this bill will make it to the house floor.

“There are water quality issues all throughout the United States,” said Rep. Donalds. “Water projects all throughout the United States. And you find on Capitol Hill, Republicans and Democrats work together to get to the solutions, because water quality is going to be important for our Country moving forward.”