Date of Graduation

5-2016

Document Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Science in Chemical Engineering (MSChE)

Degree Level

Graduate

Department

Chemical Engineering

Advisor

Jamie Hestekin

Committee Member

Robert Beitle

Second Committee Member

Christa Hestekin

Third Committee Member

Marty Matlock

Keywords

Biological sciences; Applied sciences; Biofuel; Microalgae; Nutrient reclamation; Porphyridium cruentum

Abstract

Microalgal biomass has been identified as a promising feedstock for a number of industrial applications, including the synthesis of new pharmaceutical and biofuel products. However, there are several economic limitations associated with the scale up of existing algal production processes. Critical economic studies of algae-based industrial processes highlight the high cost of supplying essential nutrients to microalgae cultures. With microalgae cells having relatively high nitrogen contents (4 to 8%), the N fertilizer cost in industrial-scale production is significant. In addition, the disposal of the large volumes of cell residuals that are generated during product extraction stages can pose other economic challenges.

While waste streams can provide a concentrated source of nutrients, concerns about the presence of biological contaminants and the expense of heat treatment pose challenges to processes that use wastewater as a nutrient source in microalgae cultures. The goal of this study was to evaluate the potential application of ultrafiltration technology to aid in the utilization of agricultural wastewater in the cultivation of a high-value microalgae strain. An ultrafiltration system was used to remove inorganic solids and biological contaminants from wastewater taken from a swine farm in Savoy, Arkansas. The permeate from the system was then used as the nutrient source for the cultivation of the marine microalgae Porphyridium cruentum.

During the ultrafiltration system operation, little membrane fouling was observed, and permeate fluxes remained relatively constant during both short-term and long-term tests. The complete rejection of E. coli and coliforms from the wastewater was also observed, in addition to a 75% reduction in total solids, including inorganic materials. The processed permeate was shown to have very high concentrations of total nitrogen (695.6 mg L-1) and total phosphorus (69.1 mg L-1).

In addition, the growth of P. cruentum was analyzed in a medium containing swine waste permeate, and was compared to P. cruentum growth in a control medium. A higher biomass productivity, lipid productivity, and lipid content were observed in the microalgae cultivated in the swine waste medium compared to that of the control medium. These results suggest that, through the use of ultrafiltration technology as an alternative to traditional heat treatment, agricultural wastewaters could be effectively utilized as a nutrient source for microalgae cultivation.

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