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Clarkson student discovers wastewater lagoon potential as fuel source

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CANTON — The village’s 8.5-acre wastewater treatment lagoons could be a biofuel source, thanks to millions of tiny creatures that are what they eat.

The discovery was made by Stephanie A. Kring, a Clarkson University doctoral student studying environmental science and engineering.

“We were curious about what kind of algae were naturally growing in the wastewater lagoons in the Canton wastewater treatment plants,” she said.

Algae can be used to make biodiesel, a type of fuel that can be made without petroleum. The difficulty is finding algae that have the right ingredients for the job.

Ms. Kring suspected that the algae that grow in Canton’s lagoons, rich in nitrogen and phosphorous, could be harvested and converted into biodiesel, which can be used to supplement regular diesel fuel.

She found something a bit different from that theory. Most of the algae are eaten by zooplankton, microscopic creatures that populate many bodies of water.

The zooplankton may make a better fuel source than the algae. The tiny creatures absorb the nutrients from the algae they eat, and contain all the necessary ingredients for the production of biofuel. They also are easier to harvest than algae because they are slightly larger.

Ms. Kring measured the amount of zooplankton in the lagoons to see how much could be harvested as a potential biodiesel source.

“They were promising. It wasn’t a gigantic amount of biodiesel that would have resulted,” Ms. Kring said.

Harvesting the zooplankton would result in about 1,120 liters of biodiesel.

While zooplankton have been considered a safe source of fish food, this is the first time they have been considered as a source of fuel, Ms. Kring said.

Her findings, gathered over the course of the summer, were published recently in the journal Environmental Technology.

For now, this is all purely theoretical. It would take the installation of a paddle wheel or a filtration system to harvest the plankton, along with a way to turn them into fuel.

Ms. Kring, an Alexandria Bay native, received a bachelor’s degree in art from SUNY Potsdam before deciding to pursue a career she hoped would provide more job security.

She has been a Clarkson student since 2006, earning a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. She plans to graduate with her doctorate in May.

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