During the Science Year 2020/21, the MS Wissenschaft is touring Germany and Austria with an exhibition on the bioeconomy. On board is a joint exhibit of the Bioeconomy Science Center and IBG-2 Plant Sciences, Forschungszentrum Jülich. The AlgaeFlipper shows how algae can be used to clean wastewater and recover valuable nutrients. Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek learned in detail about the exhibit and the underlying research during her visit on August 21, 2020.
Since 2002, the exhibition ship MS Wissenschaft has been traveling on German and Austrian inland waterways during the summer months. Interactive exhibits are displayed on the theme of the respective Science Year. In the 2021|21 Bioeconomy Science Year, a pinball machine is on board that playfully depicts wastewater treatment with microalgae. During her visit on August 21, 2020, Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek tried out the AlgaeFlipper and was informed about the underlying research by Dr. Holger Klose, IBG-2.
Microalgae, whose original habitat is the oceans with their low nutrient density, can absorb and store large quantities of nutrients. Since they are single-celled organisms, they also reproduce very quickly. Scientists are trying to harness these properties: Algae are to absorb nutrients such as phosphate and nitrate from wastewater, and the algae biomass is to be applied to fields instead of mineral fertilizers. In this way, the nutrients are to be returned to a cycle instead of ending up in sewage sludge or in bodies of water where they are no longer available or are even harmful to the environment.
Intensive research on nutrient recycling with the help of algae has been ongoing at IBG-2 for some time, also within the framework of BioSC projects. In recent years, for example, research has been conducted into how much phosphate algae can absorb under different environmental conditions and whether algal biomass is a fully adequate substitute for mineral fertilizers in the cultivation of wheat. In 2018, a pilot plant for so-called AlgalTurfScrubbing was installed for the first time in Germany at the wastewater treatment plant of Forschungszentrum Jülich. In this process, wastewater is passed over an algal turf that absorbs nutrients from the water, thereby purifying it. About every 10 days, the nutrient-laden algae are harvested. The technique is simple, inexpensive and applicable in many locations.
The AlgaeFlipper on the MS Wissenschaft illustrates this AlgalTurfScrubbing. Blue and green balls representing water and nutrients are directed onto a surface representing an algal turf. The nutrient balls are magnetically held onto the surface, the water balls continue to flow and can be transported back to the beginning with an Archimedean screw. The nutrient balls can be "harvested" with a scraper (scrubber). They can then be returned to the circuit.
This year's MS Wissenschaft tour ends on October 26. More information and the tour schedule can be found at https://ms-wissenschaft.de/en/.
The tour film can be watched here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q1YQqy1BW2c.