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Waste Management
Volume 139, 2022, Pages 321-329

Microalgae production for nitrogen recovery of high-strength dry anaerobic digestion effluent

Silvia Gresesa, Elia Tomás-Pejóa, Giorgos Markoub, Cristina González-Fernándeza

Biotechnological Processes Unit, IMDEA Energy, Avda. Ramón de la Sagra 3, 28935 Móstoles, Madrid, Spain.

Abstract

Dry anaerobic digestion (D-AD) generates nitrogen-rich effluents that are normally neglected in the circular bioeconomy. The high turbidity and ammonium content hamper nitrogen recovery from these effluents via biological processes, such as microalgae culture. The goal of this study was to demonstrate microalgae growth viability in high-strength D-AD effluents in order to recover nitrogen (N) as microalgae biomass. According to the experimental factorial design conducted in batch reactors, ammonium was identified as the critical inhibitory compound for microalgae growth while turbidity did not exhibit a significantly negative effect. Instead, turbidity resulted advantageous since it promoted high nitrogen uptake rates and biomass production. The presence of organic turbidity resulted in a positive effect that boosted Chlorella growth in a stream with higher ammonium (350 mg NH4+-N L-1) and turbidity (175 NTU) than the inhibition thresholds reported in the literature, reaching 98.7% of N recovery as microalgae biomass. When microalgae culture was scaled up in a photobioreactor operated in continuous mode, microalgae biomass was effectively produced while recovering 100% of N at a hydraulic retention time of 10 days. By imposing long exposure times and high turbidity, Chlorella adaptation to high-strength D-AD effluent resulted in high N uptake and biomass production. This study demonstrated not only the most influencing factor and the optimal NH4+-N and turbidity combination, but also the viability of using D-AD effluents as culture media for microalgae biomass production.

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