Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Jason C. Quinn


Jason C. Quinn


Ronald Sims


Ryan Berke


The purpose of this study is to determine the potential microalgae have for being a heavy metal remediation tool. Heavy metals are naturally occurring elements that can be found inside the earth or on its surface. Typically, heavy metals are found naturally at low concentrations. However, through human activities, heavy metals are continually making their way to the surface and being concentrated. This happens largely through mining and manufacturing operations. For example, NiCd batteries produce waste containing nickel and cadmium, and paper manufacturing produces waste containing high levels of lead. As underdeveloped nations continue to industrialize and the world population continues to increase, the need for energy, natural resources, and goods will lead to ever increasing heavy metal concentrations that can have damaging effects on plant life, wildlife, and human health.

Nannochloropsis salina was used in this study as it has a high lipid content, making it a promising biofuel feedstock. This study also determined the effects that individual heavy metals have on microalgae growth and lipid content. Microalgae were grown in the presence of 10 individual heavy metals: arsenic, cadmium, chromium, cobalt, copper, lead, nickel, mercury, selenium, and zinc. Results indicate at low concentrations, most of the tested heavy metals had no significant effects on growth or lipid content. The microalgae were efficient at sorption of cadmium, cobalt, copper, lead, and zinc. Results show arsenic, chromium, nickel, and selenium all had relatively low sorption capacities. These results indicate that N. salina microalgae have the potential to be used as a heavy metal remediation tool for specific metals. In addition, N. salina microalgae being grown for biofuel production could be cultivated in wastewater containing certain heavy metals without negative impacts on productivity.