Algae sample is pulled from a photobioreactor where it is thriving and removing contaminants from Las Cruces’ wastewater. Photo: courtesy Las Cruces Sun-News

Suzanne Michaels, writes for the Las Cruces Sun-News that big implications are resulting from what looks like a small algae research project using the City’s wastewater. “This research has global implications for wastewater management in sunbelt regions that are hot and dry,” said New Mexico State University (NMSU) College of Engineering Professor Nagamany Nirmalakhandan (known as Khandan).

At the Jacob A. Hands Wastewater Treatment Facility in Las Cruces — where it is hot and dry — an annual 3.3 billion gallons of sewage from sinks, showers, and toilets all over town are processed and treated by Las Cruces Utilities (LCU) Wastewater Section. When the wastewater reaches the clear effluent stage, meeting Federal discharge standards, it is pumped into the Rio Grande.

It’s the best treatment process possible today, but it is very expensive, requiring tremendous amounts of energy. Hope is on the horizon, however, thanks to a partnership between LCU and NMSU demonstrating an algal-based process, with the potential to change the entire wastewater treatment process in sunbelt regions.

The research was originally funded by the National Science Foundation for Reinventing the Nation’s Urban Water Infrastructure, and the Department of Energy with $5 million, that has now been extended with a further $3 million to take the studies through 2021.

First developed in test tubes in the lab, and now demonstrated outdoors in 200-gallon plastic photobioreactors, NMSU researchers have proven that a specific microalgae (Galdieria sulphuraria) found in the hot springs in Yellowstone National Park, can thrive in 110-degree temperatures while removing wastewater contaminants.

The algae consumes organic carbon, nitrogen, and phosphorous, making the treated wastewater suitable for discharge into waterways. Based on the collaborative effort between LCU and NMSU over the past two years, Dr. Khandan and his students have published seven research papers in scientific journals and presented this project at several National and International conferences.

Cleaning wastewater is the primary goal of the project, and can totally change the way communities manage it while dramatically lowering the cost. Khandan notes, “This process using single-celled algae to clean wastewater is low cost, it’s never been demonstrated under field conditions before, requires only low amounts of energy, and it works.”

Read More