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Chicago water consortia engages algae research

March 28, 2016
AlgaeIndustryMagazine.com

argonne

Vials of wastewater await testing at Argonne National Laboratory. Argonne does about $11 million in water research a year. Photo: Chuck Berman, Chicago Tribune

Ally Marotti writes in the Chicago Tribune that a new public-private partnership led by World Business Chicago, called Current, is uniting Chicago’s entrepreneurs, researchers and utility companies to solve water problems by bringing water research out of labs and putting it into the hands of companies and utilities.

“Current is the tool to take the research from Argonne (National Laboratory), Northwestern (University), University of Chicago … and have it reach the marketplace and affect people’s lives,” said Dr. Seth Snyder, chief of water research at Argonne.

Argonne does about $11 million in water research a year, ranging from investigating how to recover nutrients from wastewater to analyzing climate change data. Argonne often works with companies to apply that research, but there was “no coherent way to do it. Everything was one-off,” Dr. Snyder said.

He hopes Current will change that. The project will have three focus areas: a research consortium, a network for innovation in water tech and a program to encourage the reuse of resources from wastewater. Other partners include the city of Chicago, the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the University of Illinois.

One of its latest projects relies on a process developed by a Montana-based company that takes nutrients from the water and uses them to produce algae.

David St. Pierre, executive director of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and a member of Current’s board, hopes to find a partner that will be able to use those algae in production. That would develop a circular economy in which waste is reused to produce something new.

Algae are “a great supplement for petroleum for plastics processes,” he said. “We’re going to work with Current to attract other manufacturers on the private side that will be our take-off partners and buy our algae … and see if we can get this circular economy business model around water innovation.”

If all goes well, World Business Chicago says, Current will create an economic impact worth more than $250 million over 10 years.

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