Date of Award:

7-14-2015

Document Type:

Dissertation

Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department:

Biological and Irrigation Engineering

Advisor/Chair:

Ronald C. Sims

Abstract

This study was carried out on algal biofilms grown using rotating algal biofilm reactors (RABRs) with the aim of: i) characterizing their growth in terms of photosynthetic activity and morphology ii) evaluating their performance as a wastewater treatment option and a feedstock for biofuels production, and iii) examining the algal-bacteria interactions.

A review of algal biofilm technologies currently employed in wastewater treatment processes was made to compare nutrient removal efficiencies, factors that influenced algal biofilm growth, and the different bioproducts generated from algal biomass. Consequently, research efforts were directed towards addressing pertinent issues identified in literature in order to optimize these systems for wastewater treatment and bioproducts production.

Successful growth of algal biofilms in municipal wastewater and subsequent removal of nutrients from the wastewater was demonstrated. Photosynthetic and respiration rates observed with depth of the biofilm were influenced by the biofilm composition (single vs. mixed species), culturing conditions (laboratory vs. outdoor), orientation to the light, nitrogen availability (N-replete vs. N-deplete), and dissolved inorganic carbon availability (presence or absence of bicarbonate). Slight enhancement in lipid production was also observed as a result of nitrogen stress and bicarbonate addition. However, the accumulated lipids were not as much as expected or as reported in suspended cultures. Presence of bacteria positively influenced microalgae growth in the mixed cultures but the reverse was not true.

In conclusion, photosynthetic activity and biofilm structure were characterized with methods developed for the algal biofilms in this study. For now, productivity of the algal biofilms needs to be maximized in order to fully utilize its potential as a biofuel feedstock and nutrient removal option. Further research on algae-bacteria interactions using species native to the wastewater grown algal biofilms is recommended.

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