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02/29/2012

Microscopic Farming - Newport Life Magazine

Article by Bre Power Eaton. Photography by Jacqueline Marque Inside a large, inconspicuous warehouse in Portsmouth, a textile machine whirs faster than the eye can see. Water trickles down rope-like vines toward it. Growing within clear revolving catchment cylinders are valuable microorganisms. In the industry this contraption is called “looped chord media.” And, what is happening is a form of future farming that intends to do more with less. If successful, it will meet the unprecedented food, water and energy needs of an estimated nine billion inhabitants of the Earth in 2050. “The future is going to be built around the things we need rather than what we want,” says Tim Burns, the CEO of BioProcess Algae and its parent company bioprocessH2O. The microorganisms growing inside the cylinders will eventually go toward producing those “need” items on Burns’ list. An environmental industrialist for more than 25 years, he co-founded both companies with former Harvard research biologist, Dr. John Haley, the company’s chief scientific officer. The two believed their technology could revolutionize wastewater treatment by providing cheaper, more efficient water purification and reuse processes with less environmental impact. In 2003, bioprocessH2O was born and functions by making custom mini-treatment plants, called Membrane Bioreactors (MBR). Running within each system’s complex path of external tubular membranes is the looped chord media, what Burns calls bioprocess’ “secret sauce.” The sauce is produced by weaving a filament that makes up a rope-like material with opposing polarity to attract microorganisms like bacteria and algae that feed on unwanted nutrients in wastewater. This creates clean, purified water. Systems such as these are not exclusive to large factories and corporations trying to meet EPA regulations. In fact, Director of Engineering and Senior Vice President Jeff Marshall designed a wastewater filtration system for a high school in Wayland, Massachusetts. “It is one of the most advanced wastewater treatment and reuse systems in a school in the country,” says Burns. “The wastewater from the bathroom is processed and recirculated back into the school – they can actually water the grass with it, it’s so clean,” explains Haley. “It’s really important to keep water where it belongs. We’re crazy to put all the water down a great big pipe and then it all goes to the treatment plant and into the ocean. The water is fine; you just have to remove the stuff from it and reuse it.” READ MORE