Better Algae

Algae showing more productive mixotrophic growth (right) than photoautotrophic. Photo courtesy NMC

The Los Alamos Reporter highlights new research by New Mexico Consortium scientist, Joseph Msanne, along with colleagues Shawn Starkenburg and Juergen Polle, that looks at whether growing algae for biofuels using wastewater from different sources can lead to a higher end lipid content in the algae. Their research was recently published in an article titled An Assessment of Heterotrophy and Mixotrophy in Scenedesmus and its Utilization in Wastewater Treatment, in the June 2020 issue of Algal Research.

Using wastewater to grow algae would be a cheaper alternative means of cultivation, and if algae grown in a certain type of wastewater has a higher lipid content, this would lead to a higher biodiesel production.

The researchers looked at wastewater from different sources including municipal wastewater, urban stormwater ponds and food wastewater. All of these types of wastewater contain various macro and micronutrients essential for growth. The research paper summarizes previous efforts to grow the microalgae Scenedesmus sp. in different wastewater sources and gives the results of the effectiveness of nutrient and organic substrate removal, CO2 mitigation, and resulting biomass productivities.

Since biomass productivity is a function of growth, the researchers also investigated the extent of functional genomics resources to study the regulation of central carbon metabolism in Scenedesmus.

Joseph Msanne

New Mexico Consortium scientist Joseph Msanne. Photo courtesy NMC

Their findings show that several microalgae, including Scenedesmus sp., can switch between photoautotrophic and mixotrophic growth by utilizing organic compounds that are often found in wastewater. This means there is great potential for using wastewater in commercial biofuel production. Integrating microalgae biomass production with wastewater treatment would lead to optimizing algal biomass productivity and have great environmental impacts by significantly reducing pollution and eutrophication risks.

The results of this study are promising. This review shows that industrial-scale production of algal biomass using wastewater — rich with organic matter — would provide cost-effective growth conditions that would greatly benefit biofuel feedstock production.

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