Final Report: Cost-Effective Algae Biomass Production for Oil integrated with Wastewater Treatment and Valued By-Product

EPA Contract Number: EPD11036
Title: Cost-Effective Algae Biomass Production for Oil integrated with Wastewater Treatment and Valued By-Product
Investigators: Dahiya, Anju
Small Business: General Systems Research LLC
EPA Contact: Richards, April
Phase: I
Project Period: March 1, 2011 through August 31, 2011
Project Amount: $80,000
RFA: Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR) - Phase I (2011) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: SBIR - Biofuels , Small Business Innovation Research (SBIR)


The Phase I project focused on developing a low-cost algal biomass production for oil by integrating the system with wastewater treatment, such as dairy farm manure, brewery wastewaters, and producing valued by-products, such as feedstock for biogas. The importance lies in the fact that a critical hurdle in terms of large-scale biomass production and a big economic barrier in the production of algae oil, i.e., the cost-efficiency of producing algae biomass, can be lowered by integrating with wastewater treatment as recognized by Department of Energy studies. The nutrient-rich wastewater from biodigesters or farm runoff is mostly organic material that algae can digest and utilize the nutrients (mainly nitrogen and phosphorus), which otherwise is a threat to natural water bodies. To grow oil-rich algae in such a medium could be a challenge, and no robust system exists. Unlike expensive algal closed systems (photobioreactors) under research, General Systems Research's (GSR) system is based on establishing a symbiotic relation between oil-rich algae and the bacterial system in open tank or pond systems. GSR tested two different process wastewater streams from two different facilities, a dairy farm and a brewery, using mixed and mono cultures of natural algal assemblage, GSR’s proprietary oil-rich algal strain(s), and a well-known strain of Chlorella vulgaris. The harvest was tested for oil lipid contents, and the water quality parameters, including nutrient concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus, were analyzed. The algal biomass also was assessed for its possible use as feedstock for biogas.

Summary/Accomplishments (Outputs/Outcomes):

The untreated brewery wastewater and anaerobically digested dairy manure wastewater were used to grow abovementioned different algal cultures in six reactors. The measurements were taken for biological oxygen demand (BOD), nitrate, ammonium, total nitrogen and total phosphorus levels. The algal growth, pH, light and temperature were monitored on a daily basis. Lipid contents and fatty acid methyl esters (FAME) were measured.
  • The results showed that the algal cultures reduced BOD in brewery wastewater by 97-99 percent and in dairy manure wastewater by 70-87.3 percent.
  • The natural assemblage and monocultures of an isolated algal strain cultured in dairy manure wastewater in batch mode removed significantly higher amounts of ammonium nitrate nitrogen and total nitrogen compared to Chlorella cultures; however, in wastewater Chlorella cultures were more efficient in removal of ammonium nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen.
  • The natural assemblage and isolated strain-based monoculture grown in brewery wastewater removed a higher amount of phosphorus compared to Chlorella cultures. Whereas, grown in manure wastewater, Chlorella cultures were more efficient in removing phosphorus.
  • In the semi-continuous modes, the natural assemblage and isolated culture grown dairy manure wastewater were efficient in ammonium nitrate and phosphorus removal.
  • The lipid accumulation, based on Ash Free Dry Weight (AFDW) of algae, was higher in the case of algae grown in brewery wastewater compared to the dairy manure wastewater. The isolated strains showed up to 1.27 to 1.60 times higher lipid content than Chlorella strain, which is known to accumulate lipid content up to 50 percent of AFDW. The (FAME) analysis for oil as triacyl glycerols (TAG) showed that the most abundant FAs obtained are from (C16:0) to (C20:3), the range required for biofuel production.


The Phase I project demonstrated the feasibility of the concept proposed and innovation in following different areas:  the algae oil production integrated with wastewater treatment, production of byproducts such as biogas, and in addition to that a prototype cyberinfrastructure for algae biofuel research that can inform the pilot-scale project leading to commercialization. The work done in Phase I, including the test of various oil rich algae strains and their feasibility in treating brewery and manure wastewaters, will be directly applicable in Phase II.
Before and during the Phase I project, GSR has been collaborating with a local dairy farm, a commercial brewery, and a commercially operating bio-digester company. They have interest in utilizing GSR-developed technology. GSR also collaborated in the preparation of a "Technology Niche Analysis" in conjunction with Foresight Science & Technology (TNA, Project No. EPA0626TN). The Foresight S&T analyst contacted many experts in the field to gauge their views on the GSR technology’s potential competitive opening, and the end-users to gauge their views on the technology and the marketplace. The analyst also provided a cost analysis along with a perspective of competition, including the range of competitive technologies, to consider when comparing GSR’s technology to those on the market now, and those that may be available in a 5-year window from the date of anticipated market entry.

Supplemental Keywords:

Algae biomass production, biofuel production