avid Erickson writes in the (Montana) Missoulian that Clearas Water Recovery, a Missoula tech company formed eight years ago, has developed a patented process to use algae to remove nitrogen and phosphorous from public wastewater treatment plants. Often referred to as “nutrient loading,” these two elements cause algal blooms in lakes and rivers that create “dead zones” that devastate vegetation and animals.
“I think the simplest way to describe what we do is to say that we take harmful constituents out of the wastewater prior to discharge into our rivers, lakes and streams, and we do it biologically sustainably,” explained company CEO Jordan Lind.
Clearas formed as a company when algae farmers in the Bitterroot Valley wanted phosphorous and nitrogen from Missoula’s wastewater treatment facility to feed their biofuel. Mr. Lind recalls that the head of the wastewater facility told them they could take as much wastewater as they wanted for free, a much better alternative than buying synthetic nitrogen.
It was a “eureka” moment. Kevin McGraw, the company’s co-founder and operations manager, realized that they could develop a technology to harness wastewater’s nutrients to grow a valuable product while doing public utilities a favor. “What they need to get rid of, our plants require,” said Mr. Lind.
The company developed a testing facility at Missoula’s wastewater treatment plant on North Reserve. A series of tubes feed 15,000 gallons of wastewater per day through algae and return it to the Clark Fork River much cleaner than it was before.
“There’s a really natural connection between what the regulators want you to remove before discharge and exactly what algae requires,” Mr. Lind said. “The beauty is that Clearas is recovering the resource rather than just removing it. They have centrifugal machines that can turn the algae into whatever consistency a customer needs, whether it’s a watery sludge for fertilizing a field or a dry cake for making plastics or fuels. There are lots of potential co-products that result from the treatment process.”