On July 30, the MS Wissenschaft, the Science Year exhibition ship, started in Münster. 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 Minister of Research Anja Karliczek informed herself about the exhibit and the underlying research during her visit on August 21.
Since 2002, the exhibition ship MS Wissenschaft has been travelling on German and Austrian inland waterways during the summer months. Interactive exhibits on the topic of the respective science year are on display. In the Science Year 2021|21 Bioeconomy, a pinball machine is on board, which playfully illustrates wastewater treatment with microalgae. During her visit on August 21, Federal Research Minister Anja Karliczek tried out the AlgaeFlipper and had herself informed by Dr. Holger Klose, IBG-2, about the underlying research.
Microalgae, whose original habitat are the oceans with their low nutrient density, can absorb and store large quantities of nutrients. Since they are unicellular organisms, they also reproduce very quickly. Scientists are trying to make use of these properties: Algae are intended to absorb nutrients such as phosphate and nitrate from wastewater, and the algae biomass is to be spread on fields instead of mineral fertilizers. In this way, the nutrients are to be fed back into a cycle instead of ending up in sewage sludge or in waters where they are no longer available or even harmful to the environment.
At IBG-2, intensive research work on nutrient recycling using algae has been underway for some time, also within the framework of BioSC projects. In recent years, for example, it has been investigated how much phosphate algae can absorb under different environmental conditions and whether algal biomass is a suitable substitute for mineral fertilizers when growing wheat. In 2018, a pilot plant for so-called AlgalTurfScrubbing was installed for the first time in Germany at the Jülich Research Center's wastewater treatment plant. Here, wastewater is passed over a lawn of algae that absorbs the nutrients from the water and thus cleans it. The nutrient-laden algae are harvested approximately every 10 days. The technique is simple, inexpensive and applicable in many places.
The AlgaeFlipper on the MS Wissenschaft illustrates this AlgalTurfScrubbing. Blue and green balls representing water and nutrients are directed onto a surface representing an algae turf. The nutrient balls are magnetically attached to the surface, the water balls continue to flow and can be returned to the beginning with an Archimedean screw. The nutrient balls can be „harvested“ with a scrubber. They can then be returned to the cycle.
This year's MS Wissenschaft Tour ended on 17 October. In 2021, there will be a second tour on the topic of bioeconomy. More information and the tour schedule can be found at https://ms-wissenschaft.de/.
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