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Eliminating Algae Blooms Using Ultrasonic Tech With Lawrence Field

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If algae blooms go out of control, they can cause devastation to aquatic life and destroy coastal communities. This is typically addressed through chemical-based techniques, which are highly effective yet lead to other environmental problems. Lawrence Field presents an ecologically safe way to eliminate algae blooms, which features the use of ultrasonic tech. He joins Corinna Bellizzi to share how certain levels of frequencies are targeted into the ocean to get rid of harmful kinds of algae without negatively impacting wildlife and humans. Lawrence also explains how algae respond to rising sea temperatures and how they plan to push their ultrasonic tech into the mainstream.

 

About Lawrence Field

CMBB 166 | Algae BloomsLawrence Field is CEO of WaterIQ, a provider of modern ultrasonic algae mitigation solutions, proven across a wide range of problem areas. He brings 30 years of experience in investing and operating service and manufacturing businesses. In 2008, he led the buyout of Tulsa Inspection Resources, where his pipeline customers were governed by public utilities commissions and they utilized ultra sound technology for their pipeline inspection process.

 

 

Guest LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/lawrence-field-0406591b9

Guest Website: http://www.wateriqtech.com

Guest Social: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCAgFbQHazxfSSaAxrncJoNg

 

Show Notes:

00:00 – Introduction

02:18 – Lawrence’s career journey

06:12 – Addressing out-of-control algae blooms

15:52 – Identifying and differentiating algae

23:15 – Flesh-eating bacteria

26:19 – Keeping pets safe from unsafe water puddles and sources

29:46 – Comparison with other methods

33:56 – Water temperature for algae

37:49 – Closing Words

41:26 – Takeaways

 

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Eliminating Algae Blooms Using Ultrasonic Tech With Lawrence Field

Ecologically Safe Ultrasonic Algae Removal VS. Chemical-Based Algae Removal

In this episode, we’re going to talk about something we’ve touched on a few times on this show before, including out-of-control algae blooms and the devastation that they can impact on environments and coastal communities. We’ll talk about technological solutions, including a cool ultrasonic algae removal system. We’re going to learn how this compares against chemical-based processes. What excites me about this conversation, in particular, is that we can move from fear of things like red tides and mass fish die-offs to a feeling of empowerment.

We’re doing the cleanup efforts of trying to get our waters bluer and our rivers and streams less polluted with some of this nutrition runoff from farming out of these problems that we can empower ourselves to be the change that we need to see by paying attention and preventing those out-of-control blooms from doing exactly that, becoming something that we need to look at as a natural disaster. Joining me for this conversation is Lawrence Field. He’s the CEO of WaterIQ, a company he founded and a provider of modern ultrasonic algae bloom mitigation solutions. Lawrence Field, welcome to the show.

Corinna, it is nice to see you.

I understand you’re off in the mountains, enjoying life. I’m here on the coast, closer to the problems of some of the algae blooms that we might see here in California. I wanted to start our conversation by learning what brought you into this space. While it’s vitally important, it might seem like an out-there field. What brought you to it?

I have a background in pipeline inspection. We inspected hundreds of thousands of miles of pipelines in the United States that would carry liquids, oil, or natural gas. We used an ultrasonic device to go inside the pipeline to detect anomalies, corrosion, and leaks. We then would report back to our customers. I also had an investment. I started a wastewater treatment company. I sold both of those companies. I was semi-retired, living in Jackson Hole in the summer and in California in the wintertime. I saw this device on a golf course and was intrigued about it.

I talked to our superintendent who said that he was taking the water that irrigated the golf course from the Snake River and then the water would go through the golf course and the fairways. He couldn’t use chemicals because the water was going back in the Snake. It was a very regulated permit that he was working under because we’re right next to a national park. I found myself, almost a year later, teaming up with a company called Sonic Solutions. They had been in the business of manufacturing and selling this ultrasonic device but were undercapitalized.

I felt like there was a market given the trends. I started WaterIQ Technologies and have since invested millions of dollars in upgrading the technology and providing remote water quality monitoring that a number of our customers need to take daily reports of how their water is doing. We have this integrated system that not only kills algae but also provides real-time water quality monitoring data for our customers to see how their water is performing every day.

I heard about things like algae being used in water treatment plants to help rid some of the water of the nutrition that is over-abundant in some runoff areas. For instance, you have nitrogen and phosphorus that are coming off farmland, which is very common here on the Central Coast of California since we’ve got so much farmland. It’s very fertile. If you’re eating a berry in the United States, it’s probably coming from Driscoll’s in Watsonville. They are tackling that locally by using algae at one of the stages of processing. The algae consumes it and is filtered out before the water exits the treatment plant, and is then recycled and reused.

I’ve heard you on another podcast talk about the fact that there are still remnants of those cyanobacteria or other algae and that can exacerbate the problem. I was hoping you could help clarify that because I don’t think algae is necessarily the enemy. We know that half of the oxygen we breathe or more comes from algae. However, when we have these red tides and out-of-control algae blooms, you see these mass fish die-offs and a bunch of fish washing into a harbor or onto the shore. It’s toxic.

There’s got to be a middle ground. Your piece sits in one part of that solution. I’m hoping you can help us all understand the cycle, the problem, and how we can step towards the solution that hopefully, one day, and this is not to say I want you to go out of business, but wouldn’t it be nice to not need that?

I would agree with you. I was asked by a magazine what would be my vision for the future. My vision for the future would be that we would have an environment that wouldn’t have nutrient pollution. In the next 50 years or so, we think of ourselves almost like a hospital. Excess nitrogen and phosphorus aren’t going away even though there are trends to try to reduce both of those.

Due to real estate developments, cattle ranches, and farms, stormwater runoff runs into rivers and reservoirs that ultimately wind up in irrigation ponds, vineyards, or orchards. They also wind up in wastewater treatment plants, drinking water, utilities, industrial plants, and also in the aquaculture market where there are fish hatcheries. Unfortunately, certain types of algae can be harmful and kill fish while they’re trying to grow. It’s not going away.

In the meantime, we want to be like that hospital that treats the patients with care. If you had cancer, you could go and get chemotherapy. We would relate that to something like a chemical such as an algaecide that can kill algae but also other beneficial bacteria and other parts of the water that make the whole ecology or ecosystem of a water body healthy. Our technology targets the gas vesicle in harmful blue-green algae and doesn’t impact wildlife humans and the beneficial bacteria that are inside the water.

You’re speaking to the biologist in me. You’re speaking about the vesicles and the structure and form of these algae and cyanobacterium. To help people understand more broadly what you’re talking about here, this is a nonchemical intervention. That means you’re blasting the stuff with ultrasonic sound waves. Think about it like cleaning your jewelry or brushing your teeth with your Sonicare. You’re doing that in the water and it busts the cells up. You do it without harming other lives.

Think of an opera singer. If the opera singer hits the right pitch at the right decibel, the crystal would vibrate and then ultimately shatter like the old Memorex commercial. That phenomenon is called Critical Structural Resonance. Our newest technology emits 4,400 ultrasonic frequencies between 20 kilohertz and 200 kilohertz. It’s beyond what humans can hear. We can hear only up to about 18 kilohertz.

These ultrasonic waves pulse every second. It’s on for 4/10 of a second and off for 6/10 of a second pulses. We have a circuit board that ignites these piezos. The piezos would be like an amplifier. They go out through what we call transducers and emit these frequencies. It takes about 40-something minutes to go through our 4,400 frequencies that pulse every second.

We have found through working with scientists, and we view science and academic research as our partners, that in blue-green algae, part of their cell structure is something called a gas vesicle. The gas vesicle causes the blue-green algae to rise and get sunlight, which causes buoyancy. What you need to create algae besides nitrogen and phosphorus is a little sunlight and warm temperatures. That’s the recipe for how algae grow. Ironically enough, algae is not even an algae. It’s a bacteria.

It’s a photosynthetic bacterium. That’s why it’s called cyanobacterium, correct?

That’s exactly right. There are 7,500 species of blue-green algae. In those 7,500 species, there are a lot of subspecies. There are tens of thousands of these types of blue-green algae, some of which contain cyanobacteria. It releases toxins that when exposed are harmful not only to pets but can be harmful to humans. We deal with targeting not only blue-green algae but also kill green algae which can be harmful to lakes, ponds, or drinking water utilities because they cause total suspended solids to go up. They also can clog irrigation valves if you’re a farmer. Even though green algae isn’t considered harmful, it can cause a lake to become atrophic. That means it absorbs all the oxygen and can create almost a dead body of water where it’s green.

It goes septic.

With the latest introduction of our device which emits over 4,000 frequencies, we’ve learned that we can kill golden algae and red algae. They don’t have the same gas vesicles that cause buoyancy. They have something called a flagella and that allows them to be mobile. The red algae Karenia brevis is the species that causes red tide. It washes up into estuaries and channels.

This is one of the more broadly known algae that is so problematic, that red tide perspective. If you live on the coast anywhere, especially if you’re in Florida or perhaps in the Gulf of Mexico, you’ve probably heard about some of these algae blooms and seen their effects and smelled them too. It’s stinky on the coast when you have a red algae bloom.

These other species, the things you’re talking about in the blue-green space which can be toxic to pets and humans, are a little scary. There are some species of blue-green algae that we use commonly for nutrition like spirulina. I have a question for you that relates to that. I don’t want people to get overdriven with fear of something like spirulina which can be a nutritional boosting ingredient that’s helpful to manage your health. How would you differentiate some of these? When you’re going through this gamut of frequencies to isolate and kill different strains of algae, are you selecting them or are you always broadcasting through the spectrum?

Before we put our unit or technology in a water body, we take water samples so we know what we’re dealing with. Generally, the types of algae that can produce blue-green algae type of species would be things like microcystis, anabaena, and pediastrum. These are species that release toxins. For example, you’re in California. There are bodies of water that are closed because they’re not safe to swim in. I got back from Austin, Texas. They have a beautiful lake in downtown, Town Lake. Every year, they have dogs that will drink out of Town Lake and die. Those are the issues that we’re dealing with, which are the cyanotoxins that are released by a number of different species of blue-green algae.

When it comes to this treatment, one of the things I thought about was whether or not it could be utilized on, let’s say, a pond that’s full of fish without damaging the fish or the other life forms there. Is this something that can be utilized in that way or does the water have to be filtered through it as it’s being processed?

One of our largest markets is the aquaculture market. For example, hundreds of millions of fish have died in Texas through something called prymnesium parvum, which is the species. It’s a golden algae. Our unit does not impact fish, birds, or any type of wildlife. As a matter of fact, in our first several programs or hatches with Texas Fish & Wildlife, our unit where they’ve installed the technology, the mortality rate of the fish has decreased ten times. That means because the fish are being impacted by this harmful blue-green or gold algae, which are two different kinds but both of them impact the fish, we’ve seen the fish flourish.

The aquaculture market is very big. We’re in bodies of water all the time in reservoirs that are recreational reservoirs or drinking source reservoirs for drinking water utilities. There is no impact at all. The frequencies target the gas vesicles of the blue-green. It’s a little more complicated with green. It’s called thylakoids but they act similarly. With golden and red algae, it’s the flagella.

You’re identifying these algae usually by looking at them under a microscope. You can tell if it’s rotifer. If it’s got a flagella, then it’s this other type. You’re identifying them that way visually. For the audience to understand too, the algae can be present in the water. This is all microalgae. They’re tiny. Unless there’s a lot of them, you’re not going to see the color. You have to look at them under a microscope to even sometimes see if they’re there and identify them.

This would also be part of the reason why a red algae bloom seems to come out of the blue. The water was fine yesterday and today, it’s red. That algae can also change its color. It might have been green in an earlier stage of its development and then it turned orange, pink, or yellow. Identifying it on-site without some analysis isn’t possible. I like that you’re doing that from the perspective of testing the water. I like to say, “Test, don’t guess because you don’t know.” The same thing applies to your health markers and things like that too.

When we think about water, we can’t just trust that it’s good to drink. It is also why I’ve always been skeptical of something like a LifeStraw. I can’t imagine that it would filter out everything that might harm me if I’m drinking from a straw out of a puddle. Perhaps that’s because I’ve seen too much under a microscope.

There are, in bodies of water, generally, more than one species. There are several different species of different types of algae when we take our sampling. We’re normally called when there’s an issue. It’s not microscopic to the eye when you see mats of floating algae that have accumulated. That’s where it gets dangerous.

CMBB 166 | Algae Blooms
Algae Blooms: When floating algae has started to accumulate in the ocean, it is a sign that things are getting dangerous.

 

This is my thinking though and I’m sure you’re on par with me. If you could get to a point where we were handling this from a mitigation standpoint and not a crisis standpoint, you could identify it before the problem became so out of control that suddenly, you have fish washing up into the harbor dead or health outcomes that are scary. I’ve seen those signs on certain beaches too, saying, “The water’s unsafe right now to swim here.”

We also saw some terrible news coming out of Florida where not only did they have out-of-control algae blooms that were negatively impacting people’s health but at the same time, flesh-eating bacteria. That gets scary for people. It gets them to pay attention to water quality and the sorts of things that we’re doing to impact water quality. It also causes me to ask the question as someone who doesn’t know this as deeply as I’m sure you do of whether or not the algae blooms themselves are creating other conditions where this bacterium like the flesh-eating bacteria can thrive. Is one leading to the other, in other words?

I don’t want to get above my skis and become an expert on the flesh-eating bacteria that we read about. We stick to blue-green algae, green algae, golden algae, and red algae. Even though blue-green algae is considered a bacteria from a taxonomy perspective, I wouldn’t want to comment on what the correlation would be between the flesh-eating bacteria and the blue-green algae.

I do know that in the state of Florida, Governor DeSantis assigned a $3.5 billion executive order to help clean up the infrastructure of the damages that algae have caused coming from Lake Okeechobee. All the way from North of Florida, it lands a lot of times in Lake Okeechobee. It’s filled with harmful blue-green algae or something called, in this case, microcystis erogenous. It overflows into channels through locks and goes to Naples on one side and Stuart on the other. You have hundreds of thousands of residents who then are faced with having the cyanotoxins in their backyard or near a water body.

I’m betting if you’re a dog owner that you’re not someone that often lets your dog drink from puddles. In my local area, they’re using recycled water at all the parks. Sometimes, that water does collect in a puddle here or there. I have seen some friends complaining that their dogs have what would be called incontinence after they drink some of that water.

They are constantly having a little bit of pee. It’s almost like a UTI for the dog. There are some minor effects but also potentially major effects. How can we as local citizens in our communities work to help make sure that this is clean and safe? We can’t always prevent the errant dog or child from doing something like putting some of that muddy water right in their mouths.

The states and municipalities are becoming more aware. They’re enacting programs to monitor the water. In the state of California, they have a program that monitors all the harmful algae blooms that occur that are reported. Those are announced statewide. They then go to the local governing official and either close the body of water or at least warn and start a problem that gets out of hand. Oftentimes, we get called to help solve that.

CMBB 166 | Algae Blooms
Algae Blooms: More municipalities are enacting programs to monitor the water from harmful algae blooms.

 

Historically, the way to kill algae is through chemicals. Unfortunately, as we talked about the chemicals, we want to be a hospital that treats our patients well. If you have cancer and chemotherapy, it can kill the cancer. It also kills other things that are the good antibodies or the beneficial bacteria in the water. We are the sustainable version and hopefully, the environmentally friendly solution to deal with this harmful blue-green algae issue.

I love that. I’m thinking about the pond behind my father’s condo in Redwood City. They treat the water with something dark green-blue. You can tell because the color looks artificial every time that they’ve treated it. They’re not using your solution. They’re using a chemical intervention of some sort that they claim doesn’t hurt the fish.

The carbon there is giant. They still seem to be okay but I would prefer that they’re using a technology like yours rather than a bunch of chemicals. Let’s say they live in a complex in Redwood City like my father’s. They’re like, “Can we ship to this ultrasonic technology instead?” Does it compare from a cost perspective? Is it more affordable or less? What’s the long view on something like this?

The cost comparison for our product or technology versus an algaecide is equivalent because you have to apply chemicals weekly or monthly. Our unit is automated. You turn it on. If there’s no access to electricity, it can be powered by a solar panel. Inside the body of the water floats and the unit sits about 6 inches underneath. It’s automated and very maintenance-friendly. We do reduce the labor shortage or labor cost for our customers. They like the fact that they don’t have to be labor-intensive with our technology.

For us, it’s part of education, to answer your question, that our technology is getting known. The governor of California and Florida knows about it. The different water districts are getting to know about it. We’ve also had to go through a lot of scientific research to prove that not only does our technology work or the efficacy works but that we have no other impact on the environment with the exception of killing and targeting these harmful blue-green algae primarily.

I am encouraged by what you’re doing because I understand the problem of these out-of-control algae blooms. There have been a whole series of entrepreneurial efforts that are centered around the algae space, some of which are even going out and grabbing the algae to then convert it into things like the foam in sneaker soles and things like that. That’s the company, Bloom. It doesn’t do anything to prevent the algae bloom from going out of control in the first place. It’s a cleanup as opposed to a solution on the way to cleaning out our waterways so that they don’t get an overburden of nitrogen and phosphorus, a lot of which is being handled by a reduction in this flood-style irrigation.

When you convert from an irrigation system where you’re wetting the entire field, you get a lot of runoff from that. When you’re able to convert those farming techniques and technologies to be more regenerative, like a regenerative organic farming style, you tend to use less water. You tend to use water from the surface, tubes underground, and things like that, or even the hoses so that they aren’t getting as much runoff.

They aren’t using the same kind of load of topical fertilizers that mingle with the water. These are salts. They end up in our waterways and make our rivers turn from this beautiful, clear, and blue reflective space to something murky and muddy-looking, and then create this runoff and bloom right into the oceans.

I also wanted to clarify something for our audience as well. You said warm temperatures or warm waters as a condition in which algae thrives. Those of us who live here in California don’t consider the water here warm but algae tends to thrive, and it depends on the species, close to freezing when you say warm water. They can still bloom in the 50s.

Around 40 degrees is the magic temperature that it gets to be so cold that algae don’t proliferate. Up North, our units are pulled out of the water in the wintertime when the water freezes. You’ll see generally the warmer the temperatures, the more algae will grow and proliferate. Frankly, one of the trends that we’re seeing is with our climate, it does seem to be getting warmer. As a result of that, with warmer temperatures, harmful algae is a bigger issue.

[bctt tweet=”When the ocean gets so cold, the algae doesn’t proliferate. The warmer the temperature, the more algae will grow.” via=”no”]

With rising temperatures in the ocean, it doesn’t have to be much to have a pretty dramatic effect. When you’re talking about a global air temperature rise of 1.5 degrees Celsius, we’re going to top that. Our oceans are continuing to see warming trends. Here in California, our waters are fairly cold. I’m a scuba diver. The ocean is about 55 to 56 degrees most of the year. If you go deep, it can be cooler.

I’ve been in waters on the coast here as low as 47 degrees. Generally speaking, you’re looking at the mid-50s for our water temps. It goes up a little bit and changes the conditions for all of the environment. That can mean that the acidity of the ocean rises, which means it’s absorbing more carbon. As the ocean absorbs more carbon, it also increases in temperature. We get into this awful cycle. Solutions like this are going to be needed.

Mitigation strategies mean trying to get in the middle of it before it becomes a problem. Ultimately, we want to solve the runoff in the first place and reduce these things coming into our waters. We have to think about it too. It also comes from your toilet. Let’s be frank. You consume things. You have waste. Those waste salts, the medications you take, and all the stuff that you’re consuming, some of that ends up in our oceans and rivers too. That’s a reality of how our systems work here.

What do you do? You create a technology, create a solution, and make it affordable. You work with your local legislators to try and get them to think about this. This is one of the reasons that some regulations are necessary. We need to have water quality standards and make sure that we don’t have bad actors polluting our waterways in such a way that is creating real problems that are expensive in other ways for our communities, oceans, and ecosystems.

I want to say thank you for bringing attention to this issue and for working to solve it. That’s a lot of work. When you say you have invested millions of dollars in research, I believe it because this stuff is highly technical. You’re even talking about things like different algae species that have flagella and that they move and they are bacteria. They’re different than we might think of a simple plant. I’m so glad that there’s an opportunity available that isn’t chemically based. I applaud the work. Thank you.

I appreciate the time. We are trying to empower our customers to be better stewards of the environment by killing harmful blue-green algae.

You are making a solution that can float in a pond and be powered by a little solar array. That makes so much sense to me, especially if it’s not something that can be powered. I love that. Keep at it. Hopefully, you can come back on at some point in the future and share with me how this technology has changed. Maybe we have a dramatic drop in the incidence of these problems on the coast of California and Florida. Wouldn’t that be amazing? 

It’s not just the coast because it’s all the farms, the drinking water utilities, the wastewater treatment plants, and golf courses. Luckily, we’re the official water technology for Audubon. We have groups like that that are trying to support our efforts. At the end of the day, we’re seeing more farmers and companies wanting to do the right thing.

Thank you so much for joining me. I wanted to leave you with an opportunity to share some closing words with our audience and then I’ll provide a few key takeaways of my own.

I appreciate the job that you’re doing on spreading the message of sustainability because I feel that we want to leave the planet better for our children. One way to do that is not to treat an issue with toxic chemicals. Having a solution that doesn’t impact the environment long-term is part of our mission.

That was well-stated. We want to protect not only our kids but also our dear pets and all the wildlife that could be negatively impacted as well. Too often, we don’t think of them as stakeholders at the table as well so it’s very important.

It’s good to be with you. Thanks again for all that you’re doing.

Thank you so much.

If it wasn’t obvious before to you, I hope that it is now that we do need to focus on cleaning up our water systems and returning our rivers and lakes to their natural, beautiful blue. I want to draw your attention to an article that was written by John Roulac. He has been instrumental in the regenerative agriculture space. He wrote an article specifically on returning our rivers to their original beautiful blue.

I did interview him on an episode of Nutrition Without Compromise and re-shared that on this show as well. If you want to go back and know about the import of cleaning up our farming system so that our waters can be this beautiful blue and that we aren’t having that runoff go to the oceans, that would be a great episode to expand on your knowledge and learn a little bit more. If you’re motivated to read that article, it’s available on Substack. It’s by John Roulac.

While we do work to clean up our rivers and waterways, it is still imperative that we find mitigation solutions like that that have been offered to us by Lawrence Field, specifically with this technology. I encourage you to take a look at WaterIQ’s website. It will be critical to move this conversation forward. Share the thought with your community.

If you happen to live in an apartment complex or by a lake and you know that they’re throwing these weird colorants in the water, typically, that is a chemical solution to algae because they’re trying to deal with out-of-control blooms and reduce the stink that can come with that. If you have the power, then take it on yourself and go ahead and recommend that your local community look into this WaterIQ.

If you sign up for our newsletter, you’ll even receive a five-step guide to help organize your efforts and unleash your inner activism. I also include some sustainability tools and some educational resources to help you learn more about things like regenerative agriculture. Thank you now and always for being a part of this show and this community.

Speaking of that, if you leave me a review or give me a thumbs up, a like, or a comment wherever you’re tuning in to this, that will help this reach more people and grow our community. That’s something I firmly believe. Together, we can do so much more. We can care more, be better, even clean up those waterways, and return our blue planet to its former glory. Thank you.

 

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