While research and development of algal biofuels are currently receiving much interest and funding, they are still not commercially viable at today’s fossil fuel prices. However, a niche opportunity may exist where algae are grown as a by-product of high rate algal ponds (HRAPs) operated for wastewater treatment. In addition to significantly better economics, algal biofuel production from wastewater treatment HRAPs has a much smaller environmental footprint compared to commercial algal production HRAPs which consume freshwater and fertilizers.
Algae, during production, reduce Chemical oxygen demands (COD) and Biological Oxygen demands (BOD) of wastewater through photosynthesis process and utilize dissolved solids for production of its biomass. Algae can produce >20 times more oil per hectare than terrestrial oilseed crops such as soy and canola. Therefore growing algae on these waste streams appears to be a win-win situation. In the end, the water comes out purified and energy-rich biomass is created.
National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has taken serious initiatives for this technology and probably OMEGA (Offshore Membrane Enclosure for Growing Algae) is the largest project of its kind for algal production in floating plastic bags filled with wastewater on a sea surface (to maximize surface area).
However, apart from sustainable outcomes, wastewater treatment with algae production is still not that popular among municipalities, mainly because of absence/lag of biofuel reform, resulting due to no social media marketing and branding for environmental design in this sector worldwide.
Do you think, without taking biofuels into account, treatment of wastewater with algae would be a better option for municipalities/councils to treat their domestic wastewater?
Credits: Images and data linked to sources.