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Honda taps Ohio University mechanical engineer for algae-based remediation project

Pete Shooner | Oct 29, 2018
Leading a tour during OHIO's 2018 Shale Symposium, Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Bayless discusses his algae research.
Leading a tour during OHIO's 2018 Shale Symposium, Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Bayless discusses his algae research.

Honda taps Ohio University mechanical engineer for algae-based remediation project

Pete Shooner | Oct 29, 2018
Leading a tour during OHIO's 2018 Shale Symposium, Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Bayless discusses his algae research.
Leading a tour during OHIO's 2018 Shale Symposium, Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Bayless discusses his algae research.

When a team of engineers at Honda R&D Americas (HRA) needed expert advice to construct a carbon-dioxide capturing algae farm at HRA’s Ohio Center in Union County, the group knew to turn to Ohio University’s Russ College of Engineering and Technology.

Honda’s Joel Agner, Daniel Sellars and Dan Wells contacted Russ College Loehr Professor of Mechanical Engineering David Bayless, a leading expert in algae research, who jumped at the chance to join the project.

“For me, this is beyond exciting,” Bayless said. “To my knowledge, this is really the first company-driven algal-based remediation program. For Honda to embrace this shows that this can be done and that there is a positive future for this field.”

In May, Agner, Sellars and Wells installed Honda’s first-ever algal farm, onsite at HRA’s Ohio Center, in which the building’s CO2 waste is used to grow algae that can then be converted into new energy and other valuable products.

“Through photosynthesis, algae use the power of sunlight and waterborne nutrients to store the carbon from CO2 and release the oxygen,” Sellars explained. “That byproduct, or biomass, can then be engineered into fuels, soil conditioners, plastic or anything else made from oil.”

The system uses a generator, run on vegetable oil from the Ohio Center’s cafeteria, to draw the building’s CO2 exhaust into the algae farm, which is composed of long, clear pipes filled with water and bursting with the green color of the algae’s chlorophyll. 

Bayless’ focus will be on the nutrients needed to sustainably grow the algae, specifically looking at opportunities from wastewater.

“The big problem in making algae commercial is the fertilizer you need to grow it,” Bayless said, noting that fertilizer itself costs money and energy to produce. “By using what would normally be a pollutant, we can not only reduce wastewater’s negative environmental impact but also improve the sustainability and cost of algal systems.”

In addition to benefiting from Bayless’ expertise, the team worked with OHIO to secure a $200,000 grant from the Ohio Water Development Authority. The funding in turn is helping support the research of Russ College mechanical engineering graduate students Ahmad Abu Hajer and Drake Harrell, as well as OHIO sophomore Ed Drabold, who spent the past summer on-site at Honda collecting data from the algae farm.

"I did the techno-economical analysis on the system as well as collected all the data for the carbon capture analysis," Drabold said. "I also had the opportunity to meet Yoshiyuki Matsumoto, president of Honda R&D Global, and he toured the system I helped set up — really great experiences."

Through Bayless’ and his students’ research, Agner, Sellars and Wells hope to create a modular algal system for other Honda sites to employ and make it more automated so that it can work on its own.

“Through this we’ve found all kinds of other technology and ideas that could be implemented, including ones that would feed directly into our algal system,” Sellars said. “This is just the tip of the iceberg with this technology.”

Read more on Honda’s website.

Compiled with reports from Honda R&D Americas, Inc.