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An electric boat for algae removal

9 Sept 2016 15:17 | Communication

They are small, but not harmless: algae are increasingly plaguing waters in the Netherlands. Four students in the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences (AUAS) Engineering, Design and Innovation bachelor's programme are working on a solution. They are developing an electric ‘whisper’ boat (fluisterboot) that can silently and autonomously clear the algae infestation from ditches and reservoirs, so that the remaining flora and fauna can flourish.

Algae are literally a growing problem for water management in the Netherlands. As a result of environmental pollution, such as fertilisers in the water, algae growth is rampant. Under this thick blanket of algae, water plants and fish are starved of sufficient oxygen and sunlight, and die.

How can you remove an algae infestation from the water effectively? MijnStadstuin asked AUAS Engineering students Daan Zaalberg, Max Moester, Twan Huijbers and Joey Egberts to develop a solution. The students presented the result of their research project this summer: a self-built algae boat, which uses a conveyor to remove excess algae from the water autonomously. The algae boat provides a solution that wasn’t available yet: removing only the excess algae, while leaving the remaining flora and fauna intact.

Selective removal

'The client was really enthusiastic, because there hadn’t been a good solution for this up to now,' says student Daan Zaalberg. This type of work is usually done with an excavator, which scoops the algae from the banks of the ditch. But plants, animals and other aquatic life are also scooped up by this method, which is something the algae boat doesn’t do. The depth of the conveyor can be set precisely. 'This prevents the removal of living algae, which do belong in the deeper parts of the ditch. You can set it so that only the upper layer is removed,' Daan explains. Thanks to the silent motor, the boat also causes as little disruption as possible to animals and people engaged in recreational activities in the surrounding area.

Bike-wreck-proof

The students based their design on the boat for Waternet, developed by their fellow students, which floats on two hollow tubes. The boat is light enough to keep floating even with a full bin on the top. The algae are removed along with a lot of water, which makes the bin very heavy. The structure of the boat is also sturdy enough to withstand a collision with a bike wreck or other debris in the water.

Delicacy for pigs

When the boat returns and the bin is emptied, the algae need to be dried on the bank. This isn’t simply waste. The algae can be used as fertiliser, or as food for chickens and pigs. It is also possible to obtain biofuel from algae. 'Our aim and that of our client is for this boat to pay for itself with the profit from the algae. That will complete the circle.'

Alderman on the bank

The students built the boat themselves over the past academic year. This summer, they tested the boat for their client in recreational area De Tuinen van West . 'It works really well,' says Daan enthusiastically, an opinion shared by the city of Amsterdam Alderman for Sustainability, Abdeluheb Choho, who watched from the bank. The students were later told by the clients that 'it made a deep impression on the alderman.' MijnStadstuin plans to use the algae boat in De Tuinen van West in the near future.