University of Maryland researchers are helping to keep pollution out of the Port of Baltimore and the Chesapeake Bay while providing a pollution-free source of renewable energy.

Stephanie Lansing, associate professor of environmental science and technology, is leading a pilot project to harvest biogas from algae previously used to filter pollution from water flowing into the port.

“We are cleaning up the bay, improving water and air quality, reducing pollution, and creating renewable energy using innovative green technologies for the port all at once,” Lansing said.

The algae are initially grown for a system designed by two members of the Department of Environmental Science and Technology: lecturer Peter May, a senior environmental scientist at the Baltimore-based Biohabitats engineering firm, and Associate Professor Patrick Kangas. The algae consume runoff containing fertilizer, yard and pet waste, and excess nutrients. Nutrient pollution can lead to oxygen-starved “dead zones” in the bay.

The algae in the system are harvested weekly and fed into digesters to produce methane-enriched biogas that’s used to power a fuel cell that generates electricity.

Currently, the fuel cell is only powering flood lights around the digesters. Adding the water pump is the next goal, making this a completely sustainable and closed system for this small-scale pilot project.

The project is a partnership of the College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration and the Maritime Administration of the U.S. Department of Transportation.

Video courtesy of BTN LiveBIG