Mroz returns to help clear the air
Wednesday, 10 October 2012 11:43

Former Dundalk resident and HY-TEK CEO Bob Mroz shows off the LED lights that are used to help grow algae at Back River. photo by Ben Boehl

HY-TEK system uses algae to filter CO2

by Ben Boehl

We hear all the time that greenhouse gases  are bad for our environment, but carbon dioxide (CO2) and other pollutants have been around since the beginning of the the Industrial Age.
    Dundalk native Bob Mroz and his company HY-TEK Bio, LLC want to change that and have come up with a way to get those pollutants out of the air.
    They are practicing their technique on a familiar source of pollution in our area: the Back River Wastewater Treatment.
    “When the facility burns methane, it produces 40 percent CO2, which isn’t allowed by law, so they mix it with ambient air,” Mroz explained. “That still only drops the CO2 level to 17 percent. That is still higher than burning coal, which is between six to 12 percent.”
    Mroz said his technique can reduce CO2 emissions by nearly 100 percent — using algae.    
    Solid waste at the plant is chemically processed in “digesters” that help reduce solid wastes into methane gas and liquid.  The methane gas is collected in the large and familiar “Golden Eggs” and then filtered as fuel to run three electric generators that generate up to four  megawatts of electrical power. That power is used to run the waste water treatment plant facilities.
    As Mroz noted, the exhaust from these generators goes into the local atmosphere along with CO2 and other greenhouse gas emissions.
    HY-TEK team’s solution is to collect that flue gas and inject it into a tank that contains algae. Eventually, the plant-like organisms convert the gas into oxygen and marketable algae by-products, and clean air is released into the atmosphere.
    The project sounds simple, but Jack French, vice president of HY-TEK Bio, said that in order for the algae to do its intended job, it has to have the right types of nutrients, flue gas and light.
    Since the algae is grown in a controlled facility, HY-TEK Bio had to come up with its own means of photosynthesis (the process by which plants process nutrients and CO2) using LED lights. After typing many combinations, French said that red and blue LED lights  were most effective.
    “He had to go through the entire light spectrum to see what the algae uses,” French said.
    As the project became more complicated, HY-TEK Bio applied for grant money and started working with the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Sciences to conduct experiments.
    The next step was to find the best type of algae. Some strains of algae can tolerate higher CO2 levels than others.
    “In order for all of this to work, we need what I call the perfect recipe,” French said.
    After checking out many different strains of algae, HY-TEK Bio and the university decided that algae from Back River was best for this project.
    Even though HY-TEK has applied and received grants, they are still many items that cost money. Mroz and French decided to go to other local businesses to ask for donations, and they were overwhelmed with all the help they received from the corporate community.
    For example, Innovative Automation & Controls out of Owings Mills supplied climate control devices, and Dimension-Polyant from Annapolis supplied the sailcloth technology that was used for  HY-TEK’s tanks. In some cases, those companies supplied their materials at a discount rates, and other companies donated their materials at no charge.
    “It blew us away with all the community help,” French added. “They all want to get on the green bandwagon and they all want to be green.”
    Mroz’s HY-TEK is based in Dayton in Howard County, but Mroz knows the Dundalk area well. He graduated Sparrows Point High School in 1962 and had previously attended North Point Elementary.
    Mroz remembers the old days of the Back River plant and said things have improved dramatically over the decades.
    “I would remember that you would drive pass it and have to turn on your windshield wipers,” he recalls.
    Right now, HY-TEK’s project at Back River, a Baltimore City-owned facility, is only a demonstration, but he hopes one day that all the flue gas at the plant will be converted by algae into clean energy.
    He has been in talks with other businesses and cities that have high levels of CO2 at different facilities all over the county and hopes that  his   algae clean energy technology will continue to expand.
    Instead of waiting and worrying about alternatives to fossil fuels, Mroz said his product allows America and countries all over the world to continue to burn fossil fuels with no emissions.
    “This is innovative. We have a new concept where we can still use fossil fuels, but still have clean energy,” Mroz added.