by Underwatertimes.com News Service – April 2, 2015 20:26 EST
HOUSTON, Texas — 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 phosphorus 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
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