Barge in Brevard County turning harmful algae into helpful resource

Algae removal process begins by skimming top few inches of the water’s surface

ORLANDO, Fla. – Floating along the Indian River Lagoon sits a bright 110-foot barge working to make Brevard waterways healthier, by targeting and harvesting algae.

Dan Levy, Vice President of AECOM, the Engineering Firm leading this project, took us on board to show us their unique solution to the algae problem.

“Florida is an algae prone state, and we need the best most advanced capability to address Harmful Algal Blooms.” Levy explained. “We cannot come up with a silver bullet to fix everything. But we do have tools now. So if we starting to see an algae bloom form, we now can go out with these harvesters and minimize that. It is all about finding where the algae is. And since algae floats as the currents do, we need to be flexible.”

And what better way to be flexible, than with a floating research barge.

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The algae removal process begins by skimming top few inches of the water’s surface, targeting where the algae accumulates the most.

Once the algae is collected, it’s sent onboard into the algae harvester, where a solution is added to bind the microscopic algae together and make it more visual. Next, a chamber adds compressed air into the water, pushing the clumps of algae to the top. The algae is then carefully removed and the newly oxygenated water returns to the river.

During this tour on the river, the water seemed pretty clear, but by the end of the process, it was surprising how much algae was actually present there.

“If we’re this good at taking this minimal algae out now on a day like this, we’re that much better when we have a bigger algae problem.” Levy said.

A problem that is worsening as temperatures over land and sea continue to warm.

“Because of what we’re seeing in climate change over the last decade, we’re starting to see a more prevalence of harmful algal blooms or toxic algae. And that’s the algae we don’t want. So we want to find a way to get that out of the system without rupturing it. Because if those cells are ruptured in the process, it releases a harmful toxin. And that’s what we don’t want. And that is what our system is designed specifically to prevent that from happening” Levy said.

Along with ridding harmful toxins in the Indian River Lagoon, Levy is also focused on sustainability.

The 110-foot barge working to make Brevard waterways healthier, by targeting and harvesting algae. (AECOM)

“We’re not just taking that algae and throwing it to a landfill. We can actually do something meaningful with it potentially a green energy, then we really have a program we want to scale,” Levy explained. “We can take this now, and add heat and pressure and create bio crude oil, very similar to how nature does it. Instead of taking millions of years, we can do it in minutes through hydrothermal processing. And we can transform those carbon bits into bio crude oil, which is a game changer,” he added.

AECOM has thirteen projects across Florida so far, including Lake Jessup. This current project on the Indian River Lagoon is a first for the research, as its the first time they are using the harvester on a water way that is made up of a fresh and saltwater environment.

“As we continue to grow as a planet, we need to work with nature. We need to look at everything as a resource, and we need to work effectively, but we need to do this now. We don’t have the time.” Levy said.

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Candace Campos joined the News 6 weather team in 2015.