By Tara DiMaio, The Academic Times
Researchers have invented a natural bioreactor system to remove organophosphate pesticides and nitrate from groundwater, using algae to filter well water before it can enter a treatment facility and contaminate an area's water supply.
Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium are often called the "Big Three" in commercial fertilizers as plants need these macronutrients to survive. The novel system leverages the power of the nutrients themselves – which, in the form of nitrates and organophosphates, are harmful to humans – to grow algae biomass for harvesting while simultaneously filtering water. The invention is a collaboration between a team at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and the government-funded Nebraska Environmental Trust. The patent application for this method and system was published by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office on May 6.
The invention's aims are twofold. Its main purpose is to remove organophosphate and nitrate contaminants from water to make it safer for human consumption. At the same time, those contaminants promote the fast growth of algae, which can later be sold as a high-value product.
The innovation addresses a key public health issue, particularly in the American Midwest and other agricultural regions across the planet: Phosphate-based pesticides can easily infiltrate the groundwater in farming communities, posing a hazard to human health.