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The Oilgae Team had an excellent opportunity a couple of weeks back when we visited Bangalore and the Nualgi team that has done awesome work in the field of sewage pond treatment using algae.
The idea sounds simple once you heard it; in fact you would be led to wonder why no one thought of it earlier.
In many countries worldwide, untreated sewage is fed into lakes and ponds. There, with the help of microbial action, these ponds are treated for their nutrients, to varying degrees. Essentially, what happens is as follows: bacteria decompose the nutrients in the sewage into simpler substances which are left behind or are removed as sludge. These bacteria however need oxygen for their growth, and this is where algae make their grand entrance. In most of these ponds and lakes, one will notice blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) co-existing with the bacteria. These blue-green algae themselves absorb some of the nutrients from the sewage (thus cleaning the water to some extent), but their more important role is in being an efficient supplier of oxygen that is so badly required by the bacteria.
Now, what was explained in the previous paragraph is what takes place naturally. Such ponds in fact have a name – they are called “oxidation ponds,” owing to the oxidation requirements of the bacteria. While in some cases the oxygen requirements are supplied artificially (which consumes large amounts of power), in many other cases algae play the role of the natural supplier of oxygen (thus resulting in significant cost savings for the pond operator).
The algae-supported oxidation ponds however have a problem – many times, the blue green algae do not perform to expectations. In many cases, they are likely to “crash” where large masses of blue-green algae simply die and gather into a huge mass, resulting in a huge mess! In addition, removing these blue-green algae (in cases where they have crashed and otherwise) is a headache for many pond operators.
(see the articles Phosphates Blamed for Recent Algae Bloom in Lake Erie and Canada’s Sickest Lake to get an idea of how blue-green algae could be troublesome if left all to itself – Thanks to M.V.Bhaskar, who is also part of the Nualgi team, for forwarding these two links)
The Nualgi team has come up with a wonderful idea to ensure that the algae perform their role as the oxygen suppliers without the attendant problems present with blue-green algae.
Before I go on and explain the Nualgi solution, a few words needs to be said about Sampath Kumar, the person who came up the idea of nualgi.
You could be excused if you had expected scientists to have a PhD, or a Masters degree in science at the very least. The last category of people who could be expected to become scientists are chartered accountants, possibly closely followed by lawyers.
Sampath Kumar is a chartered accountant by profession, and he does not appear to have any science education beyond his school science days. But he possesses an amazing scientific brain and child-like curiosity. With his excellent scientific perspective and a good amount of never-say-die entrepreneurial persistence Sampath has been able to develop Nualgi.
And he possesses a great heart as well. In fact, we were stunned when he spent the entire day with us and took the trouble of taking us around Bangalore for over 6 hours in his car (the Oilgae team that went to meet him comprised Mathumitha Balu, Parkavi Kumar and myself – Narasimhan Santhanam).
Ok, so what is so exciting about nualgi? I’d say it is its simplicity. The basic idea is as follows: You use nualgi which is a specially-prepared nutrient for growing algae, specifically diatoms. Diatoms grow fast, given the right nutrients (well, that’s an understatement, they grow like crazy under optimal conditions). When nualgi is used in sewage ponds, it stimulates the growth of diatoms which in turn supply oxygen for the bacteria and does it part in cleaning up the water as well.
Now starts the real fun. Zooplanktons love to consume diatoms – in fact where there are diatoms, zooplanktons seem to be appear in droves and droves, almost as if by magic. And many types of fish love the zooplankton.
Now you start getting the picture.
Nualgi leads to growth of diatoms -> Diatoms lead to growth of zooplankton -> Zooplankton lead to growth of fish.
And along the way, the sewage pond is cleared of nutrients absorbed by the diatoms as well as decomposed the bacteria that were supported by the oxygen supplied by the diatoms.
Essentially, those who are responsible for sewage ponds now can essentially become successful aquaculturists.
Sounds exciting, doesn’t it?
When we landed in Bangalore to meet the nualgi team, we were under the impression that this was a concept that was just being tried out. Far from it! Nualgi has been applied in many lakes in Bangalore for over three years and all those who have usd it have vouched for its success. Sampath Kumar was kind enough to take us around to some lakes where we saw nualgi in operation – it really was a nice feeling to see the cool idea working.
Sampath Kumar is a brilliant person, and a passionate scientist. Those who are keen to know about nualgi and how it could be applied to sewage ponds in their regions may kindly contact him from http://www.nualgi.com/aboutus.html
Nualgi is a mircro nutrient that boosts growth of algae.
Nualgi contains Si, Fe, Mn, Ca, Mg, Zn, Cu, B, S, Mo, etc in nano size (20 nano meters to 150 nano meters).
Nualgi causes a Diatom bloom Algae in waste water.
Diatoms take up the essential nutrients from water and grow this helps in the sewage water. It also overcomes the problem of eutrophication caused by blue green algae.
Diatoms grow faster than BGA hence it takes up all the available nutrients and multiply.
Diatoms also release oxygen while growing and increase the Dissolved Oxygen level of water and thereby convert anaerobic conditions to aerobic conditions which solves odour problems
Release of oxygen by nualgi also solves the problem of fish kill. Fish kill occurs due to low DO level in water. Addition of nualgi will induce the growth of diatoms which in turn increase the DO level in water.
Diatoms are consumed by zooplankton and these are in turn consumed by fish. So the yield of fish is high.
1 kg of Nualgi is to be used in about 1 million to 4 million litres of water.
Use Nualgi once in every three days.
Oxygen bubbling occurs in the lake after addition of nualgi
Details of the Company and of Our Visit:
Inventor: Mr. Sampath kumar
Assistant: Mr. Mathusoothanan
Oilgae Team: Narasimhan, Parkavi, Mathumitha.
Visited three lakes:
Fully treated lake: Vengayanakere
They use nualgi for about 4 years
Fish yield increased from 2 tons to 5 tons
Sewage Lake turned into a nice boating place
The colour of the water – light green / golden brown
High Zooplankton population
High fish population – mainly Tilapia
Partially treated lake: Madivala
Use nualgi only to prevent fish death
Lake used only for fishing
Colour of the water – dark green
Colour of the water – dark green to black with red patches
Other useful links
Page on Wikipedia on Eutrophication
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