As one might be aware, algae are important bioremediation agents, and are already being used as a potential avenue for waste water treatment by many facilities. This blog briefs some of the research efforts and global activities on algae based waste water treatment that has taken place in the past few years.
Efforts by Worldwide Universities
Researchers at the Polytechnic University of Catalonia, Spain are focusing on cultivating algae biomass using waste water which will be subsequently harvested for biogas generation in anaerobic digesters. (February 2013)
Researchers at New Mexico State University – NMSU are testing a variety of inexpensive prototype photobioreactors for an algae production/wastewater treatment system. Essentially enclosed plastic bag containers, these bioreactor systems are heated by the sun, prevent water evaporation and retain carbon dioxide for algae photosynthesis. The bioreactors are being tested at the Fabian Garcia Science Center with other algae cultivation equipment. The approach is being called the POWER – photosynthetically oxygenated waste-to-energy recovery. This system, if successful will provide a more sustainable method for treating wastewater, a new viable approach to producing electric power and liquid biofuels, and a revenue stream to offset infrastructure improvements. (March 2013)
California Polytechnic State University – Cal Poly and the city of San Luis Obispo unveiled a pilot project to test the viability of using algae to treat wastewater. The project at San Luis Obispo’s sewage treatment plant has been under construction and consists of nine algae-rich ponds that circulate wastewater. Fueled by sunlight, the algae feed on pollutants in the wastewater. This results in cleaner water and an increased volume of oil-rich algae that can be converted to products such as liquid biofuel or fertilizer (January 2012)
Researchers at the Utah State University are researching on algae biofilm systems as an alternative to suspended algal growth systems because of the ease of biomass harvesting and reduced costs in downstream processing. The goal of the project is optimizing biofilm growth and performance as a nutrient removal option in addition to characterization of the biofilm population.
In 2011, Researchers at the University of South Florida carried a preliminary analysis of algal production based on anaerobic digestion sludge centrate from the Howard F. Curren Advanced Wastewater Treatment Plant (HFC AWTP) in Tampa, Florida and secondary effluent from the City of Lakeland wastewater treatment facilities in Lakeland, Florida. It was demonstrated that a mixed culture of wild algae species could successfully be grown on wastewater nutrients and potentially scaled to commercial production.
Researchers at NASA are working on a project named OMEGA -Offshore Membrane Enclosures for Growing Algae. NASA’s OMEGA system consists of large flexible plastic tubes, called photobioreactors. Floating in seawater, the photobioreactors contain freshwater algae growing in wastewater. The project aims to investigate the technical feasibility of a unique floating algae cultivation system and prepare the way for commercial applications.
In Japan, a project has been started at a sewage treatment facility to extract a biofuel ingredient from wastewater using algae in Miyagino Ward, Sendai. This project is the first of its kind in Japan and is promoted by Tohoku University, the University of Tsukuba, and the Municipal government of Sendai. For the project, the University of Tsukuba is in charge of algae cultivation, while Tohoku University will attempt to develop the technology to extract fuel components for hydrocarbon from sewage processed with algae. The project aims to establish a practical production technology by analyzing data from the experimental research. (2013)
Efforts by Global Companies
In 2013, OriginOil and its energy systems partner Ennesys unveiled an algae based waste water treatment pilot project in Paris. The system takes wastewater from the building (that is derived from bathroom waste water, kitchen water, etc.). This water is then used to grow algae, which is nourished by wastewater. The Algae Appliance invented by OriginOil scientists, processes the water and algae to produce methane, which is then used to power the buildings.
Aqualia, a private water company, has begun a pilot program in a Spanish resort town to convert sewage and wastewater into high yield algae production and biofuel. The project, run by All-gas (a consortium of European private companies and universities), hopes to produce around 3,000 kg of dry algae per day in its 10 hectare site. The €12M scheme is said to be the world’s largest project of its type which aims to obtain low-cost biofuel from algae grown in wastewater (2013)
World Water Works, Inc., a designer and manufacturer of wastewater treatment solutions, has invested in Aquanos Energy, Ltd, an Israel-based company that designed a patent-pending algae-based wastewater treatment process for wastewater purification and renewable energy production. This system is said to reduce a wastewater treatment system’s operational costs by 40-60% and significantly reduces capital expenditures. The goal of the project is to deliver lower cost wastewater treatment while producing high grade sellable products from this process. (June 2013)
French agricultural research organization the Institut National de la Recherche Agronomique (INRA) has launched a 160 million Euro collaborative platform, named “GreenStars”, for producing biofuels and high added value products using microalgae feeding on nutrients contained in waste and CO2 emitted from industries. INRA has collaborated with 45 partners for this project and it hopes to be one of the top Institutes of Excellence worldwide in the field of microalgae biorefinery. (April 2012)
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