Meet Weird Al Plankovic: The Town's New Bioreactor That Will Supercharge Algae Production

Jason Graziadei •

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Who's got pink and purple lights and lives year-round on Brant Point?

Weird Al Plankovic.

That's the nickname for the town of Nantucket's new photobioreactor, a device that will supercharge the Natural Resources Department's production of algae at the Brant Point Shellfish Hatchery.

By creating algae "on tap" to feed the hatchery's bay scallop larvae and brood stock, the bioreactor will allow the operation to be more efficient, lower costs, and lessen the biosecurity issues associated with traditional microalgae culture.

Nantucket is the first municipality in Massachusetts to install such technology for the hatchery production of shellfish.

The massive unit arrived on January 17th, and was installed at the Brant Point Shellfish Hatchery with assistance from the Nantucket Sewer Department, which safely transported the unit across the beach and into the facility.

Natural Resources Department staff then embarked on a three-day training to get accustomed to the new technology. The bioreactor, manufactured by Industrial Plankton, will allow for a continuous supply of healthy microalgae for a minimum of eight weeks, along with computer generated and remote harvests and cleaning, as well as a 75 percent reduction of labor requirements and the use of chemicals associated with current techniques.

"It's basically a self-contained algae producer," said hatchery technician Joe Minella. "It's an awesome machine and it works really well. You basically have algae on tap."

The unit was acquired with funding provided by the Great Harbor Yacht Club Foundation. The nickname "Weird Al Plankovic" - after the singer and musician "Weird Al" Yankovic, known for his parody songs - was selected following a naming contest and vote on the Natural Resources Department's Instagram page (it received 47 percent of the vote).

The Brant Point Shellfish Hatchery conducts controlled spawns and larval release of Nantucket bay scallops in the harbor. To date this field season, the hatchery has produced 50 million larvae.

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