evin Valine at the Modesto Bee writes that the California city of Modesto may sell the algae that grows in its roughly 1,000 acres of sewer ponds at its Jennings Road wastewater treatment plant to Algix, a Mississippi-based company that dries the algae and turns it into pellets to make biodegradable plastic.
“There still is a lot to do, but we hope we can do a deal with Modesto,” said Greg Wellman, an Algix vice president. He also is a longtime Northern San Joaquin Valley government official. Before joining Algix in July, Wellman was interim general manager of the Delhi County Water District in Merced County for about a year. He said the district has been selling its algae to Algix through a middleman for at least a couple of years.
Wellman said he expects to bring a proposal for a pilot program to Algix officials within about a month. If the program is approved by Algix and Modesto, and is successful, the two could talk about having the city supply the company with algae on an ongoing basis.
Modesto is attractive because it has one of the largest sewer pond systems in the United States, and its algae is high in protein, a necessity when making biodegradable plastic. Utilities Director Larry Parlin said Modesto built the ponds decades ago to provide secondary treatment of its wastewater.
He said at the time, ponds were the lowest-cost alternative and were ideal to handle the wastewater produced by Modesto’s canneries. He said land costs are too expensive today to make ponds cost-effective.
The wastewater sits in the ponds for about a month, and microorganisms in the water eat the waste and clean the water. Algae grow especially well in the nitrogen- and phosphorous-rich sewer ponds.
Parlin said he’s been skeptical of some of these efforts, but he sees real promise using Modesto’s algae to make a product that is good for the environment and brings money to the city. “You have to take these projects with a grain of salt,” he said. “But I feel like this one has potential.”