APR 07, 2015 8:50 AM PDT

Clean Up Wastewater, Produce Biofuels: Algae Does Both

WRITTEN BY: Robert Woodard
In one of the first studies to examine the potential for using municipal wastewater as a feedstock for algae-based biofuels, Rice University scientists found they could easily grow high-value strains of oil-rich algae while simultaneously removing more than 90 percent of nitrates and more than 50 percent of phosphorous from wastewater.In one of the first studies to examine the potential for using municipal wastewater as a feedstock for algae-based biofuels, Rice University scientists found they could easily grow high-value strains of oil-rich algae while simultaneously removing more than 90 percent of nitrates and more than 50 percent of phosphorous from wastewater.

The findings, which are based on a five-month study at a wastewater treatment facility in Houston, are available online in the journal Algae.
"Biofuels were the hot topic in algaculture five years ago, but interest cooled as the algae industry moved toward producing higher-value, lower-volume products for pharmaceuticals, nutritional supplements, cosmetics and other products," said study lead author Meenakshi Bhattacharjee, a 28-year veteran of algal research who joined Rice's biosciences faculty in June. "The move to high-value products has allowed the algaculture industry to become firmly established, but producers remain heavily dependent on chemical fertilizers. Moving forward, they must address sustainability if they are to progress toward producing higher-volume products, 'green' petrochemical substitutes and fuels."

Bhattacharjee said the algae industry's reliance on chemical fertilizers is a double whammy for algae producers because it both reduces profit margins and puts them in competition with food producers for fertilizers. A 2012 National Research Council report found that "with current technologies, scaling up production of algal biofuels to meet even 5 percent of U.S. transportation fuel needs could create unsustainable demands for energy, water and nutrient resources."

The 2012 report also pointed to wastewater-based cultivation as a potential way to make algae production sustainable. An added appeal is that the method could potentially address a looming environmental problem: nutrient pollution in U.S. waterways. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, nutrient pollution from excess nitrogen and phosphorous-the two primary components of chemical fertilizers-is "one of America's most widespread, costly and challenging environmental problems."

Wastewater treatment facilities currently have no cost-effective means of removing large volumes of nitrates or phosphorous from treated water, so algae production with wastewater has the potential of solving two problems at once, said study co-author Evan Siemann, Rice's Harry C. and Olga K. Wiess Professor of BioSciences.

(Source: phys.org)
About the Author
You May Also Like
JAN 11, 2021
Earth & The Environment
The exorbitant cost of flooding
JAN 11, 2021
The exorbitant cost of flooding
New research published recently in the journal Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences reports on the econo ...
JAN 10, 2021
Earth & The Environment
What does species extinction have to do with the extinction of human languages?
JAN 10, 2021
What does species extinction have to do with the extinction of human languages?
Is there a connection between the extinction of species and that of human languages? Ecologists have long recognized a g ...
JAN 19, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Tracking the deep chlorophyll maximum with sea-faring robots
JAN 19, 2021
Tracking the deep chlorophyll maximum with sea-faring robots
In an interdisciplinary collaboration, researchers from MBARI, the University of Hawai'i at Manoa, and Woods Hole Oc ...
MAR 04, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Climate change tip: listen to the people
MAR 04, 2021
Climate change tip: listen to the people
A study published today in Nature Energy calls for governments and companies – and scientists – to list ...
MAR 09, 2021
Plants & Animals
Study Highlights Importance of Chinook Salmon to Endangered Orcas
MAR 09, 2021
Study Highlights Importance of Chinook Salmon to Endangered Orcas
Many issues plague the iconic orcas of the Pacific Northwest United States, including declining salmon populations. ...
MAR 16, 2021
Earth & The Environment
Will the oceans start to emit CFCs?
MAR 16, 2021
Will the oceans start to emit CFCs?
New research pinpoints when we can expect the ocean to turn from a CFC sink into a CFC source. CFCs are ozone-depleting ...
Loading Comments...