Purification to Energy Duckweed and Biofuel


  •  40 tons of duckweed per acre per year ~.1 tons per day not accounting for seasonal affects
  • .1 ton of duckweed yields ~ .025 tons of ethanol by weight and is ~7.5 gallons/day
  • 70 gals of ethanol per week ($1/gal cost) can be produced by one efuel fueller
  • Approximate Cost of a Prototype System is 30,000 USD











Project Lead: Ryan Integlia and Professor Eric Lam

Domestic Partners:

  • Princeton Meadows Waste Water Treatment
  • Pinelands Nursery
  • Eric Lam Research Group, Rutgers
  • Non-Profits: Em[POWER] Project Bangladesh


Project Report

Em[POWER] nonprofit 501c3 is supporting the exploration of new innovations related to Duckweed, identifying new international/national locations for duckweed growth/harvesting, along with working to establish collaborations to expand the project’s potential locally in the US and abroad.  In general we are pursuing the developing of the “Water Purification to Energy” strategy for deployment internationally and to be tested locally.  Water Purification to Energy is growing duckweed for biofuel.  It is a process that makes use of the synergy (interdependence) between a community in need of clean water and distributed sustainable energy, with systems enabling economic growth and environmental improvement.  “Water Purification to Energy” is based on the idea of capturing an unused resource that is a byproduct of a critical process, specifically being water treatment.  Ideally the energy or resources captured that were previously wasted can be used to improve social and economic situations for communities near waste water ponds, living in impoverished conditions.  Access to clean water and a sanitary environment could be enhanced by this process, which would directly improve public health.  In theUnited States, the opportunity resides initially reducing the sediment in retention ponds, which is a potential cost savings for water treatment centers in regards to dredging and burning the sediment.  Additionally the continual removal of duckweed helps purify the waste water.  The duckweed itself can feed an ethanol or potentially a biodiesel production, all as a parasitic process using existing waste water infrastructure for harvesting the duckweed.

We are part of a collaborative process involving the Lam Research Group, Rutgers Chapter of em[POWER], the EcoComplex, Energy IGERT, Engineers Without Boarders, Warm Heart International, Grambangla Unnayan Committee, NJ PIRG and others.  Some of the students involved are Philomena Chu, Thomas Maloney, Jessica Kretch, Deepack Khanna, Dave Byrnes, Dave Pal, Dave Wallace, Dalia Nahol, Gianna Rosati, Nasir Uddin, Tammy Hsu, Ryan Integlia and others.  The Rutgers student chapter of em[POWER] led by Tammy Hsu and previously Henry Chao has served to recruit undergraduate/graduate students and professionals for support, establish collaborations with student organizations such as Engineers without Boarders via Jessica Kretch, NJPIRG via Dave Byrnes, provide awareness at various events, contribute to student research via Deepak Khanna and Angela Wan and pursue involvement in service learning activities with Prof. Lam and the EcoComplex.

Written for em[POWER] by Ryan Integlia


Background Information:

Every year over three billion people become ill with preventable diseases associated with the consumption of water contaminated with fecal coliforms (Chasen 2007). These illnesses are linked directly to the lack of access to proper drinking water and purification systems. The largest factor leading to the absence of these systems is that impoverished communities are unable to sustain the costs of maintaining these energy and resource intensive technologies. If these systems can be made self-sustainable, then more communities will have access to water purification systems and fewer people will become ill from this dirty water.

There are new technologies that are being developed with these issues in mind. Duckweed is an aquatic plant that has purification properties and can be used as biomass for the fermentation of ethanol. Although duckweed can be used in conjunction with a water purification system, it is not meant to replace these systems. The creation of a harvesting and fermentation system will allow duckweed to be grown on open water, collected and fermented into ethanol. This process will not only jump-start the water purification process, it will begin to make the systems self-sustaining.

Written for em[POWER] by Dave Pal, Intern for em[POWER] (2010-2011)


Collaborative Work Currently Being Pursued:

The answer to our search for alternative sources of energy to our economy’s endless need of oil to power our cars and appliancesmay very well lie in our very own neighborhood. Duckweed is an aquatic plant often found in wastewaters that can be used after a process of many steps to eventually produce ethanol. Being found and grown in wastewaters, duckweed can be a good resource of proteins and starch.

Wastewater that is generated from water treatment facilities and lakes, some contain the necessary nutrients that can be used by the aquatic plant, Duckweed, for growth and proliferation. For several decades researchers have been intrigued by the idea that plants of the Lemnaceae, commonly called duckweeds and water meals, could be developed as a major crop. Utilization of duckweed for municipal wastewater treatment through recovery of polluting nutrients by duckweed growth is not new. These plants have been used for treatment of municipal wastewater for quite some time.

It is imperative for one to fully understand why Duckweed, out of all the ubiquitous types of plants found spread throughout our community, is a great source for ethanol production. Aquatic plants such as Duckweed can directly absorb nutrients from wastewater. This thus eliminates the need for land integration with a potential for nutrient loss due to contamination problems and such. Duckweed would utilize ponds that could be built on land that might be unsuitable for soil-grown crops. In that way an aquatic crop such as Duckweed could be grown as a worldwide supply of biomass while not interrupting arable cropland. Utilization of wastewater for growth would provide the plant’s water and nutrient needs. Duckweed is also able to tolerate the variation of nutrient levels in wastewater and the various forms of nitrogen that can be present. Most notably due to the discovery of prior research, Duckweed is able to tolerate and utilize relatively high concentrations of ammonia found in certain wastewaters.

The current objective is to maximizing biomass yield and ease of handling, while minimizing production costs highlights another major characteristic of Duckweed. Production costs are associated with the amount of resources including area that are needed to produce a unit of plant biomass. Since the ideal plant needed for this process should have a fast growth rate and the plant should be able to achieve this growth rate with minimal nutrient inputs, Duckweed is an excellent choice for this process. Duckweed grows exponentially when left alone in optimal conditions. The selected growth system would also minimize costs by simple harvesting methods of total plant biomass, which is perfect due to the small budget of this project. One of the reasons why Duckweed is requires a simple harvesting method is because of he plants ability to grow in waste water but moreover because of the plant’s characteristic for simple mechanization of harvesting and postharvest handling procedure. Nothing fancy is required for the drying and fermentation of the Duckweed as 45-degree Celsius chambers are used for the drying procedure and yeast is used for the fermentation process.

In addition, duckweed biomass has several characteristics that provide duckweed biomass-to-ethanol process advantages and that could lower overall costs when compared to corn. The main advantage is that duckweed biomass would require little or no mechanical grinding because of the small size of the plants.

Written for em[POWER] by Deepak Khanna, Intern for em[POWER], member of Lam Research Group andRutgersem[POWER] Student Chapter Member


Work Being Done Under Dr. Lam:

Under the leadership of Dr.Lam we are embarking on such a voyage, if you could say so, to use Duckweed as a source of ethanol production. Our first goal was to figure out which strain would be used for the experiment. In the mean time Dr.Lam has been working with a pond skimmer called “The Pond Hippo” . What the Pond Hippo does exactly is it removes the weeds and debris from the water and deposits them on shore in a catch container. In this case the weeds and debris would be the Pinelands Nursery, the location of our experiment, covered with the duckweed strain we chose.  This container has a series of sieves that separate the weed /debris from the water, allowing the water to flow freely back into the pond while the weed and debris stay in the container.

Although we are still in the testing phase and the process is a long and time consuming one, Dr.Lam and I are positive that this is something that will be of great value to many people in the near future. With the collection drawn from the Pond Hippo we next plan on transporting the potential biomass into the Eco-Complex. After a simple fermentation process with the use of yeast- the ready biomass would be deposited into the Micro-Fueler. The Micro-Fueler replaces the dangerous combustion heating elements used in commercial ethanol plants and home grown stills with a patent pending, non-combustion distillation system, making the MicroFueler process a safer and environmentally friendly way to produce ethanol by taking waste, in this case the duckweed, and converting that waste to energy to fuel hopefully one day your vehicles and appliances.

Written for em[POWER] by Deepak Khanna, Intern for em[POWER], member of Lam Research Group and Rutgers em[POWER] Student Chapter Member

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