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A research group at the University of Alicante (Spain) has invented an algae removal and treatment system that turns this underused residue into a renewable source of energy: biomass. The process involves several stages of washing, drying and compacting without leaving the beach. Therefore, according to the team led by Professor Irene Sentana Gadea, the system is cheaper, more efficient and more environmentally friendly than the procedure commonly followed now.
With the invention, protected with a national patent, up to an 80 percent of the weight and volume currently removed would stay on the beaches, as now with the seaweed water and sand are also sent to rubbish tips or treatment plants. Professor Eloy Sentana Cremades says that as well as considerable savings on transportation, the new procedure would allow to give more uses to the dried seaweed.
The system is based on a moving platform with wheels where three hoppers are installed. The first receives shovelfuls of wet seaweed with sand attached. Seawater is pumped in and poured back into the sea dragging the sand with it. In the next hopper, water purified with a solar-powered device would wash most of the residual salt from the algae, and in the third hopper it would be dried with air heated also by solar energy. The clean and dry seaweed could be then pressed by a system similar to the one used by rubbish trucks or converted into bales or pellets, ready to be commercialized. No chemical products would be used in the process.
The method currently used has drawbacks such as the deterioration of beaches due to the extraction of sand that then has to be replaced, the weight of the waste, and the saturation of certain landfills to which it is taken. Also, as the material is impregnated with sand and salt and mixed with other wastes, the use of the dead seaweed is limited to rudimentary applications, such as aerating the ground for agricultural purposes.
Four types of biochar were selected: ordinary laboratory-prepared biochar (BC), acidified biochar (HBC), particle size modified biochar (NBC), and composite modified biochar (HNBC). The physical and chemical properties of the biochar treatments were characterized. Vertical infiltration simulation tests were conducted to analyze the effects of modification on the adsorption and distribution of salt ions on biochar, and the soil water-stable macro-aggregates in saline-alkali soil.
The porous structure, specific surface area (SSA), micropore volume (VMIC), and H/C value were increased by acidification, particle size modification, and composite modification. Compared with BC, HBC and HNBC enhanced the O/C and (O+N)/C values, thereby increasing the hydrophilicity. The vertical infiltration tests showed that the depth of the soil wetting peak and cumulative infiltration were both higher than in the control (CK) after adding biochar, where HBC had the greatest water retention capacity. The modified biochar reduced the salt content and water-soluble Na+ content of the soil profile by increasing the soil water content and adsorbing Na+. The modified biochar promoted the formation and stabilization of soil water-stable macro-aggregates. Amending soil with HBC showed the greatest reduction in salt content and increased water-stable macro-aggregation.
HBC improved the water retention and Na+ adsorption capacity of biochar. This enhanced the formation of soil water-stable macro-aggregates and improved the effects of biochar on saline-alkali soil by altering soil physical and chemical properties.
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This study was funded by the National Natural Science Foundation of China (41807131, 41977007, and 41830754), China Postdoctoral Science Foundation (2019M653707), Natural Science Foundation of Shaanxi Province of China (2019JQ-537 and 2017JM5107), and Research Project of State Key Laboratory of Eco-hydraulics in Northwest Arid Region of China (2019KJCXTD-4 and QJNY-2019-01).
The authors declare that there are no conflicts of interest. This manuscript has not been previously published and is not currently in press, under review, or being considered for publication by another journal.
Duan, M., Liu, G., Zhou, B. et al. Effects of modified biochar on water and salt distribution and water-stable macro-aggregates in saline-alkaline soil. J Soils Sediments 21, 21922202 (2021). https://doi.org/10.1007/s11368-021-02913-2
Plastics are everywhere. From cell phones to pens and cars to medical devices, the modern world is full of plastic -- and plastic waste. New research from scientists at the Marine Biological Laboratory (MBL) Ecosystems Center found that some of that plastic waste has been accumulating in salt marshes for decades. The study was published in Environmental Advances.
Salt marshes are the link between the land and open ocean ecosystems, and -- in a way -- between urban environments and the wild ocean. Microplastics (plastic particles smaller than 5 millimeters) tend to float on the water surface, but salt marshes fill and empty with the tides, so particles that would normally float get trapped within branches and roots and settle into the marsh soil.
Sediments accumulate in the salt marsh layer after layer, like tree rings, keeping an historical record of sedimentation within the ecosystem. "By accumulating sediments, they are keeping a record in time," says Javier Lloret, MBL research scientist and co-first author on the paper.
Globally, scientists estimate that about 8 million tons of plastic enter the ocean each year. But until now, there's been no estimation of the amount of that plastic that gets trapped in salt marsh ecosystems.
By taking core samples of the marsh sediment at six different estuaries in the Waquoit Bay system on Cape Cod, as well as New Bedford, Mass., harbor, the researchers were able to trace the abundance of microplastics dating back decades in areas with very contrasted degrees of land use.
"As you go into the past, the amount of microplastics you find decreases clearly," says Lloret. "The amount of microplastics you find in sediments is related to the population numbers... but also the amount of plastic that people use."
"Waquoit Bay is the perfect salt marsh system to study plastic pollution because we can contrast one area that is almost pristine... with another area that is highly impacted by human activity," says Rut Pedrosa-Pmies, also an MBL research scientist and co-first author on the paper. "We found a broad range of plastic pollution."
The researchers focused on two types of microplastic pollution: fragments (from the breakdown of larger plastic pieces) and fibers (thread-like plastics which tend to shed from clothing and fishing gear). They found that fragment pollution increased both through time and with urbanization. The more populated the area surrounding the collection site, the more plastic fragments the researchers observed.
One surprise in the data was that microplastic concentration in the sediments wasn't linear as urbanization grew. Up to 50% development, the concentration of microplastic fragments was relatively unchanged, but once the land was occupied at 50%, the number of microplastics grew exponentially.
The researchers believe the fragments have a local origin (people using and disposing of plastics where they live) whereas fibers can be transported long distances by air or by water from large-scale urban areas.
Now that the scientists have shown there is microplastic pollution in New England salt marshes, the next step is to gain further insight. How are those particles arriving in the ecosystem? What are the sources? How are they impacting the ecosystem and the food web of the organisms that live there?