Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering


Jason C. Quinn


Large scale biofuel production from microalgae is expected to be integrated with point source CO2 sources, such as coal fired power plants. Flue gas (CO2) integration represents a required nutrient source for accelerated growth while concurrently providing an environmental service. Heavy metals inherent in coal will ultimately be introduced into the culture system. The introduced heavy metals have the potential to bind to microalgae cells, impact growth due to toxicity, and negatively impact the quality of biofuel and other microalgal derived products. Heavy metals As, Cd, Co, Cr, Cu, Hg, Mn, Ni, Pb, Sb, Se, Sn, V and Zn, commonly present in coal, were introduced to the microalgae growth medium at a concentration expected from a 7 day growth period using coal flue gas. Experimentation was conducted with Nannochloropsis salina cultivated in photobioreactors at a light intensity of 1000 μmol m-2 s-1. Heavy metals negatively impacted the growth with the average productivity being 0.54 ± 0.28 g L-1 d-1, corresponding to a decrease of 52% in biomass yield compared to control growths. Heavy metal analysis showed significant binding of the majority of the heavy metals to the biomass. A lipid content analysis found a decrease in lipid content from 38.8 ± 0.62% to 31.58 ± 0.50% (percent dry biomass). Control and heavy metal contaminated biomass were processed into biofuel through one of two different in-situ transesterification techniques, either acid-catalyzed or supercritical methanol conversion. The acid-catalyzed conversion resulted in an average crude biofuel production decrease from 0.31 ± 0.03 grams biofuel/gram microalgae for the control algae to 0.28 ± 0.02 grams biofuel/gram microalgae for the heavy metal algae, representing a 9.7% reduction. Supercritical methanol conversion exhibited a similar trend corresponding to a 15.8% reduction. Compared to the control, the total production of biofuel from the contaminated system was decreased by 51% for the acid-catalyzed conversion and 55% for the supercritical methanol conversion. Heavy metal analyses were performed on the biofuel, lipid extracted algae, and other biofuel conversion byproducts. Biochemical methane potential testing was performed on the lipid extracted algae to determine the effect of heavy metals on the generation of biogas. The effects of heavy metals in combination with the effects of acid catalyzed transesterification were found to have a positive effect on the amount of methane produced with an average productivity of 105.89 mL g-COD-1 from the heavy metals contaminated LEA compared to the control microalgae biomass which produced 53.25 mL g-COD-1.