As human populations have expanded, Earth's atmosphere and natural waters have become dumps for agricultural and industrial wastes. Remediation methods of the last half century have been largely unsuccessful. In many US watersheds, surface waters are eutrophic, and coastal water bodies, such as the Chesapeake Bay and the Gulf of Mexico, have become increasingly hypoxic. The algal turf scrubber (ATS) is an engineered system for flowing pulsed wastewaters over sloping surfaces with attached, naturally seeded filamentous algae. This treatment has been demonstrated for tertiary sewage, farm wastes, streams, and large aquaculture systems; rates as large as 40 million to 80 million liters per day (lpd) are routine. Whole-river-cleaning systems of 12 billion lpd are in development. The algal biomass, produced at rates 5 to 10 times those of other types of land-based agriculture, can be fermented, and significant research and development efforts to produce ethanol, butanol, and methane are under way. Unlike with algal photobioreactor systems, the cost of producing biofuels from the cleaning of wastewaters by ATS can be quite low.
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Vol. 61 • No. 6