Following research on the high productivity of coral reefs, ATS was developed by Walter Adey and colleagues in the late 1970s as an engineered simulation of the solar energy capture and water-modifying capabilities of reef algal turfs. ATS is a biomimicry developed to fill the need in ecosystems modeling for efficiently simulating the stabilizing effect of low level, oceanic photosynthesis over many square miles of ocean. Understanding the mechanisms that allow algal turfs in the high-energy environments of coral reefs to develop the most efficient photosynthetic system on earth, it was possible to make the engineering adaptations that provide that photosynthesis in the controllable environment called the Algal Turf Scrubber. Given the high light, turbulence and flow, as well as the moderate harvest rate of an algal turf scrubber, algal turf communities can be self-organized from the species available in most aquatic environments.

Walter Adey and Karen Loveland

During the 1980s and 90s, ATS units were used to control a wide variety of ecosystem models (mesocosms and microcosms) developed as research and exhibit tools at the Smithsonian Institution. These model ecosystems ranged from swamp/marsh units, such as the Florida Everglades to rocky shores and numerous coral reefs. Extensive monitoring in coral reef microcosms have shown coral and whole reef calcification rates and biodiversity density equal to that in prolific wild systems. This research has been widely published in the scientific literature. ATS systems integral with closed or open ecosystem models can establish nutrient, oxygen and pH concentrations and patterns at those of pristine wild ecosystems.

In 1985, Walter and Karen Adey established Ecological Systems Technology (Estech, Inc.) for R & D on commercial, large scale applications. The first scale up of ATS for landscape, non-point treatment was in the Florida Everglades in 1991; a 50-foot long flo-way developed phosphorus removal rates up to several hundred times greater than managed marsh systems. Productivity rates on this unit were ten times that of quality agriculture. That research led to additional patents for water quality control at large scale being added to the core ATS process patent awarded in 1983. In 1993, investor Don Panoz brought additional financial resources to the scale-up effort, and the R&D firm Aquatic BioEnhancement Systems (ABES) was formed; this led to pilot plants of ATS for aquaculture and municipal tertiary water treatment. The rights for commercial aquarium use of ATS are held by Ecological Systems Technology, L.P. of Reedville, Virginia. The rights for wastewater, aquaculture and algal biomass production are now exclusively licensed to HydroMentia, Inc. of Ocala, Florida.

High levels of ATS photosynthetic efficiency with a low cost of capital construction, operation and maintenance were demonstrated by HydroMentia in a South Florida Water Management District monitored pilot plant in 2003 (; this led to the first permanent ATS facility for cleaning Lake Okeechobee and a second unit near the head of the Indian River on the Florida East Coast. ATS facilities possess the capability of ameliorating global scale water and atmosphere pollution, while capturing and storing solar energy at efficiencies above that of similarly industrialized technologies. A whole river clean-up system has been designed by HydroMentia for the Suwannee River in Florida.

Walter Adey