Sustainable Algal Biofuels Solution: Sourcing Carbon and Recycling Nutrients from Waste Treatment Processing

EPA Grant Number: SU835717
Title: Sustainable Algal Biofuels Solution: Sourcing Carbon and Recycling Nutrients from Waste Treatment Processing
Investigators: Bohutskyi, Pavlo , Adams, Kameron , Baker, Jordan , Betenbaugh, Michael J. , Bouwer, Edward J. , Chow, Steven , Kim, Min Goo , Kligerman, Debora C , Pisera, Alexander , Pooran, Nicolas , Rosenberg, Julian , Salera, Christian , Shek, Coral F , Su, Chunyang , Yacar, Dean
Institution: The Johns Hopkins University , Clean Green Chesapeake , HydroMentia , Van Ert, Nemoto and Associates Consulting
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Phase: I
Project Period: August 15, 2014 through August 14, 2015
Project Amount: $15,000
RFA: P3 Awards: A National Student Design Competition for Sustainability Focusing on People, Prosperity and the Planet (2014) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Pollution Prevention/Sustainable Development , P3 Challenge Area - Energy , P3 Challenge Area - Water , P3 Awards , Sustainability


Algae represent a potentially sustainable energy source that can utilize CO2 to generate liquid fuels including diesel and jet fuel. Unfortunately, algal biofuel processes are not yet economically viable. Algal systems that utilize photosynthesis alone can sequester CO2 and remove undesirable nutrients from water but suffer from low culture density and lipid content insufficient for biofuels. Alternatively, algae can generate high cell concentrations and lipid content when grown heterotrophically or mixotrophically on supplemental organic carbon (e.g., glucose) and nutrients (e.g., N and P). However, these supplements increase process costs and hinder commercial feasibility through the application of expensive chemical fertilizers, which limits processes from becoming economically viable. This research program addresses sustainability of both energy production and water treatment by applying an innovative three-stage process that utilizes waste run-off as nutrients to generate sugar-rich substrates for generation of advanced liquid biofuels through enhanced algal bioprocessing.


The objective of this P3 Phase I proposal is to develop, test and optimize a robust and sustainable process that converts agricultural and domestic waste run-off, carbon dioxide, and sunlight into energy (in the form of biodiesel and biomethane).


This goal will be achieved in a platform process designed and demonstrated through this academic-industrial collaboration. In the first stage low quality algal biomass will be produced phototrophically on an Algal Turf Scrubber® (ATS™) (by VEN Consulting, LLC and HydroMentia, Inc.) using CO2 and nutrients from wastewater sources. In the second stage, the sugars and essential nutrients will be recovered from ATS™ biomass by a combined thermochemical/enzymatic hydrolysis process. Finally, organic carbon and other nutrients will be supplied to microalgae for heterotrophic and mixotrophic growth in order to obtain high lipid yields (in collaboration with Clean Green Chesapeake). These lipids can then be converted to biofuels, resulting in a complete CO2 and waste nutrients to energy process.

Expected Results:

The proposed project supports new research efforts to develop sustainable biofuels by combining the ATS™ technology with the generation of lipid-rich microalgae in an efficient process to convert agricultural and sewage run-off, CO2, and sunlight into biodiesel and methane. A multidisciplinary student team along with industrial researchers will perform periphytic algal biomass hydrolysis, address algal cultivation for high lipid yields, design a pilot-scale algal bioreactor based on their laboratory findings, and perform life-cycle analyses.

Supplemental Keywords:

eutrophication, waste-to-energy, CO2 sequestration, renewable energy, biodiesel, biogas, biomethane, anaerobic digestion, enzymatic and thermochemical pretreatment, Algal Turf Scrubber, mixotrophic and heterotrophic algal cultivation

Progress and Final Reports:

  • Final