Invention could help solve

Great Lakes ballast water crisis

A New Jersey scientist has invented a system that uses ultrasound and filters to kill invasive species in ballast water.


The Great Lakes are plagued by 185 invasive species, most which entered the lakes via manmade canals and the ballast water tanks of oceangoing freighters. Invasive species are one of the most serious problems in the Great Lakes, causing more than $100 million in economic and environmental damage annually. Zebra and quagga mussels, sea lamprey and other invaders have disrupted fisheries, clogged water intakes and fueled nuisance algal blooms that have killed more than 100,000 birds and threaten human health. Many of the worst invaders snuck into the lakes after 1959, when the St. Lawrence Seaway allowed ocean freighters into the freshwater lakes for the first time.  The U.S. and Canadian governments have enacted ballast water exchange rules, but regulators have yet to close the door on foreign organisms entering the lakes in ocean freighters. Meiyin Wu, an ecologist and an associate professor of biology at Montclair State University in New Jersey, may have invented the proverbial magic bullet. She developed BallastSolution, which uses filtration and ultrasound to kill microscopic organisms, along with egg and larval stages of macro-organisms, in ballast water. Wu developed the system with a $673,500 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative grant. Tests have shown BallastSolution kills 99 percent of organisms in ballast water. Wu said it could be used to sterilize ballast water tanks in millions of ships worldwide. With new federal rules requiring ocean freighters in U.S. waters to treat ballast water starting in 2017, BallastSolution could help stem the tide of invasive species entering the Great Lakes.

Resource Challenges Addressed

  • Invasive species


Piles of zebra mussels on a beach

Zebra mussels, shown here, are one of several invasive species that entered the Great Lakes through untreated ballast water. Credit: Dave Brenner Michigan Sea Grant.

Results and Accomplishments

Tests have shown that the BallastSolution system kills 99 percent of all organisms in ballast water.