Brian Braginton-Smith, left, president of AquaGen Infrastructure Systems, and company chairman James W. Hobbs show off plans for a proposed pilot project to use algae to clean wastewater in South Yarmouth. Ron Schloerb/Cape Cod Times

Brian Braginton-Smith, left, president of AquaGen Infrastructure Systems, and company chairman James W. Hobbs show off plans for a proposed pilot project to use algae to clean wastewater in South Yarmouth. Ron Schloerb/Cape Cod Times

CapeCod.com writes about a man in Yarmouth, Massachusetts trying to solve the region’s water quality woes by pursuing a pilot program that uses algae both to remove nutrients from wastewater and also to power the process. Brian Braginton-Smith, president and CEO of AquaGen Infrastructure Systems, is developing a facility that is meant to treat wastewater in an environmentally friendly way that also does not burn fossil fuel for the energy supply. “It’s actually the first fully integrated algae-based wastewater treatment facility that I know of and it’s part of what we’re envisioning as a watershed based solution for the Parker’s River watershed,” he said.

The Cape Cod Commission has been working on updating the region’s wastewater plan, called the 208 plan, with a watershed-based solution to the region’s wastewater issues. “It’s got the capability to get way down on the nitrogen that comes out of the pipe,” he said, referring to the need to remove as much nitrogen as possible from the wastewater so it does not pollute the region’s groundwater and estuaries.

Braginton-Smith said he has been running a lab in a greenhouse while developing the process over the last several years. At night, he said, “It’s got sort of this purple pinkish glow from the LED lighting. The photobioreactor is in a 24-hour photosynthesis cycle, so it’s always sort of breathing CO2 in, exhaling oxygen and consuming nutrients.”

He envisions his process as one part of the solution to the Cape’s wastewater problem. “If we can remove the nutrients from the water and help to bring about the restoration of the coastal ecosystem, and if we can also remove substantial volumes of CO2 from the atmosphere, then we’re also having a positive impact on the atmospheric pollution,” he said.

His idea of powering the system by converting algae to energy is a key part of the process. “If we’re going to be moving forward and making the decision to solve the problem of the wastewater, while we’re engaging in that solution, we should be trying to accomplish as much as we can to help to bring about more sustainable communities on Cape Cod and around the world. It just makes sense and that’s the model that we’re following,” he said.

The initial cost for the South Yarmouth site will be $2.2 million to $4.3 million, according to Braginton-Smith. The project has already received a $900,000 grant from the Bi-National Industrial Research and Development Foundation (BIRD). He expects a couple of stakeholders who would use the wastewater treatment for their properties will also contribute. “We’re the majority of the way there,” he said of funding. “We fully expect that this will be fully capitalized and moving forward.”

The permitting process is just beginning, he said. He estimated 18 months for the regulatory process to complete and the system to begin treating wastewater with the algae process he has developed. “I’m not saying our wastewater treatment plants are going to be the salvation of global warming, but every step that we take that consumes CO2 and sequesters it is beneficial.”