Algae could be the key to cleaning large bodies of water cheaply, using the sun as their fuel, says an article in the new issue of Bioscience.
Walter H. Adey of the Smithsonian Institution, Patrick C. Kangas of the University of Maryland, and Walter Mulbry of the US Department of Agriculture, believe they have identified an urgent world-wide need to bring life back to waters polluted by agricultural, domestic and industrial runoffs.
The algae - described as turf scrubbers - are used in areas the size of fields and can 'clean' water contaminated with nitrogen and phosphorus. Furthermore, the scientists believe that there could be commercial use for the by product of the cleaning process as world supplies of phosphorus - vital for fertiliser manufacture - are in danger of running out.
Using just natural light as a power source, the screen-like devices are floated on contaminated waters and restore oxygen levels as they remove nitrogen and phosphorus which can be used in fertilisers, biofuels or even high-value nutraceuticals - combined nutrition and medicinal products. Even contaminated oceans can be cleaned by the scrubbers where conditions are suitable.