Decarbonization of Wastewater Treatment with Microalgae Processes.

J. Polle, S. Blackwell, C. Lesne, J. Coyne, B. Crowe, J. Benemann, and T. Lundquist
MicroBio Engineering Inc.,
United States

Keywords: algae, wastewater, carbon capture, nitrogen removal, phosphorus removal, hydrothermal liquefaction, sustainable aviation fuels


Microalgae can contribute to the decarbonization of wastewater treatment by municipalities, industries and agriculture, by substituting sunlight for energy intensive conventional treatment processes, while capturing nutrients and carbon in the algal biomass. The carbon fixed into the algal biomass can be converted to renewable natural gas (RNG) using anaerobic digestion or into renewable diesel and sustainable aviation fuel (SAF) using hydrothermal liquefaction (HTL), with greatly reduce the carbon footprints compared to conventional fuels. Bioplastics, biofertilizers and other bioproducts from microalgae biomass also provide potential benefits in greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction and domestic supply chains. Microalgae technologies can counter eutrophication caused by harmful algal blooms by recovering nutrients, N and P, from wastewaters, and even from very low nutrient concentrations found in surface waters. CO2 is required in microalgae cultivation and wastewater treatment to support maximal rates of the photosynthesis, with the CO2 obtained from the wastes themselves, other local sources or even atmospheric CO2. Greenhouse gas mitigation with microalgae processes is based on life cycle assessments, comparing such green processes with current energy intensive wastewater treatment, and nutrient reduction technologies. Microalgae technologies are specifically relevant to smaller, often disadvantaged, communities, where currently about 5,000 algae wastewater treatment ponds are operated by public utilities with many more are operated by industries. However, many, if not most, of these pond facilities require urgent technology upgrades to achieve the potential and goals of low cost GHG mitigation and efficient nutrient recycling. MicroBio Engineering Inc. is developing and has demonstrated several technologies that combine innovative carbon mitigation and decarbonization technologies for a circular economy, with longer-term potential for large-scale biofuels and biofertilizer production.