September 28 2020

Ecosystem Restoration

Algae as a Gamechanger for Ecosystem Restoration

Moderator: Dr. Kuldip Kumar, Principal Environmental Scientist, MWRD Chicago

The speakers for this session of the Algae Biomass Summit on Algae Ecosystem Restoration had over 100 years of experience combined. We had the pleasure of hearing them speak on how algae can help restore the ecosystem. This topic includes removal of harmful bloom, reducing fertilizer use through soil amendments, and highly effective waste water treatments. This is a great topic for us to learn about the ecosystem services that algae can provide and develop and green and sustainable economy in the future. Nutrient trading and environmental opportunities are only the tip of the iceberg for what is possible.

Lets dive into Mark Allen’s presentation. Among many great accomplishments, Mark is a founding member of the Algae Biomass Organization, as well as a past chainman and president of the ABO.

His speech was on:

Terrestrial Agriculture Systems

Mark is working on using algae to mitigate algae. How do they do this? They work with prokaryotic cyanobacteria. These cyanobacteria are as old as the dirt!

He walks us through “The Great Carbon Sequestration Event”. Going back 4.6 billion years, then moving forward to when the first living cells started to show up, there was about 30% C02 in the atmosphere, and zero oxygen. Moving forward a few hundred million years from when we had the first living cell, we then get the first photosynthetic cells. These cells at this point in time were still quite basic, but had the genetic code for photosynthesis. A couple hundred million years after that we get the first water splitting photosynthetic organisms. Now things going really start rolling!

What did these water splitting photosynthetic organisms do? They took ~7 quad trillion tonnes of C02 (just a little bit!!) out of the atmosphere and converted it to organic carbon, which is the source of our fossil fuels of today. It took another billion+ years for the oxygen in the oceans to become available in the atmosphere. This led to the first aerobic organisms, followed by the true algals. This system continued to work very effectively until the late 1800’s. What happened then? The population started to outrun to ability of conventional agriculture to produce. From this came the Haber-Bosch Process, also known as  “Bread from Air” and enabled explosive population growth. Without this invention we would be sitting around a population of 3 billion today, instead of the 8 Billion we’re approaching.

Downside of Bread from Air?

The intensity that we have used synthetic nitrogen fertilizer has led to soil acidification, and other downsides to the functionality of soil. Did you know, other than the ocean, that soil is the largest carbon sink in the biosphere? This means it pretty important! The synthetic fertilizer that doesn’t get absorbed by the plant goes down the denitrification pathway and enters the atmosphere as nitrous oxide – a powerful greenhouse gas and a catalyst for air polution.

Ecosystem Restoration using Algae
Mark and his team use a technology they call TerraSync. This uses various strains of nitrogen fixing cyanobacteria, which is already found around the world in soil. They grow various cyanobacteria mixtures to add to the soil. After 10 years of R&D this has become cost competitive to replace Haber-Bosch nitrogen Fertilizer. Essentially they are accelerating nature. Taking natural organisms, amplify it’s effect, and cut off the pathways for nitrogen to groundwater and surface area, and along the way eliminate the carbon footprint of the Haber-Bosch process.

To learn more about how you can rehabilitate distressed soil, or augment good soil, contact Accelergy to learn more.

Mark is the VP of Integrated Carbon Solutions at Accelergy Corporation

Terrestrial ecosystem restoration


Session Speakers included:

Kuldip Kumar – Principal Environmental Scientist, MWRD Chicago
Daniel Levy – Vice President, Environmental, AECOM
Martin Gross – Co-Founder, Gross-Wen Technologies Inc
Mark Allen – Vice President Integrated Carbon Solutions, Accelergy Corporation