Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Master of Science (MS)


Biological Engineering

Committee Chair(s)

Ronald C. Sims


Ronald C. Sims


Jon Takemoto


Charles D. Miller


The production of cyanobacterial biofilm biomass and phycocyanin from Rotating Algal Biofilm Reactors utilizing undiluted produced water from oil and natural gas extraction as a culture medium was investigated in this study. Produced water is the largest waste stream generated by the oil and natural gas industries and represents a large volume of non-potable water that may be available for algae culture with minimal impact on freshwater resources. Combining the use of produced wastewater as culture medium with the production of high value algal pigments, such as phycocyanin, may increase the economic viability of algae culture and wastewater purification. High value phycocyanin pigment production and methods to increase phycocyanin yields with light limitation were examined in this study. A unique cyanobacteria species was isolated from the Logan City Wastewater Treatment Facility in Logan, Utah and used in conjunction with the Rotating Algal Biofilm Reactor platform for the duration of this study.

Between the “high” and “low” light treatments used in this study, the high light treatment showed nearly twice the biomass production as the low light culture (4.8±0.7 vs. 2.7±0.4 g/m2-day). The low light biomass contained 87.6% more of the phycocyanin pigment, with a 230% increase in purity, then the biomass from the high light treatment. The areal footprint productivity of phycocyanin per day was the same for both the light treatments.

An evaluation of growth attachment materials was conducted with cotton rope and cotton conveyer cloth materials found to be the most durable and having the highest yields of harvestable biomass. The cotton rope and cotton conveyor cloth materials were evaluated on a floating Rotating Algal Biofilm Reactor operating in a 2000 L outdoor produced water pond. The cotton rope yielded a 140% increase in biomass vs. the cotton cloth although the compositions varied greatly. The cotton cloth biomass was composed of mainly healthy algae with higher phycocyanin yields while the cotton rope showed a higher proportion of non-algae organisms and little phycocyanin. These results show promise for the utilization of produced water to grow cyanobacteria biofilms with modifiable biomass characteristics as a source of high value phycocyanin pigments.