Many small communities across Iowa are facing the challenge of upgrading their wastewater treatment plants to meet new regulatory mandates. Gross-Wen Technologies, an Iowa Innovation Corporation (IICorp) client, thinks algae may be the answer.
Two Iowa State University scientists, Martin Gross and Zhiyou Wen, founded Gross-Wen Technologies in 2013 with the idea of commercializing an algal-based wastewater treatment process. Its system recovers nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous from wastewater. and captures algae biomass that can then be used to create a slow-release algal fertilizer.
The result? An efficient treatment system that stops the flow of excess nutrients, including nitrates, into Iowa’s waterways—and helps communities with limited budgets treat their wastewater much more affordably than traditional treatment approaches.
“The Revolving Algal Biofilm (RAB) system has ten times higher treatment capacity and biomass productivity in comparison to conventional algal systems such as raceway ponds,” said co-founder Gross, a postdoctoral fellow at ISU’s Center for Crops Utilization Research. “This technology utilizes a rotating biofilm which allows for simple and low-cost algal harvesting.”
Through Gross-Wen’s innovative, patent-pending RAB Treatment System, a series of broad conveyor belts cycle through wastewater in an ongoing loop. With exposure to sunlight and air—as well as the nitrogen and phosphorus present in the water—layers of algae soon grow on the belts. Not only does the system clean the wastewater, the algae are then collected and used to create slow-release algal pellets—a 100% renewable plant fertilizer product.
IICorp is proud to have played a role in helping Gross-Wen commercialize its technology. IICorp helped Gross-Wen obtain a $25,000 grant from IICorp, a $25,000 loan from the Iowa Economic Development Authority, and a 2016 USDA SBIR Grant valued at $100,000.
“The programs that IICorp offers such as the SBIR assistance program have helped accelerate the commercialization of our algae system,” Gross said. “These kinds of programs give Iowa companies a huge advantage when commercializing innovative technologies like ours.”
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