Communities of microalgae and bacteria in photobioreactors treating municipal wastewater

University dissertation from Västerås : Mälardalens högskola

Abstract: Everyone who uses water produces wastewater. This inevitability creates several problems that increase with the growth of the population and industry. What to do with the wastewater, how to purify it and how to design the infrastructure are all important questions that each municipality has to deal with, taking into account ever growing demands to reduce environmental impact. In these conditions scientists and engineers have turned to biological processes to help treat the water. Currently the most commonly used wastewater treatment method known as the activated sludge process involves bacteria that help break down the pollutants. While it has been used successfully for around 100 years now, it has many limitations when faced with modern demands. As an alternative, microalgae reactors, commonly known as photobioreactors, have been suggested.Microalgae are microscopic water organisms that can use photosynthesis to form sugars from CO2 and water. To do this they require energy from light, hence the photo part of the photobioreactor. In addition to taking up CO2 from their environment, they take up nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous compounds. This is a reason why microalgae have great potential for use in wastewater treatment. When grown in wastewater together with the microorganisms already present, they are able to reduce the amount of pollutants by taking them up into their cells, effectively purifying the water.Since wastewater has its own microbial community, the biological processes taking place in a wastewater treating photobioreactor are more complex compared to growing a single species of algae in a sterile medium. With the work presented in this licentiate, we characterized the algae and bacterial communities present in photobioreactors treating wastewater in addition to finding the most optimal ways to grow algae originating from a local lake in a wastewater medium. We looked at the species found, most important metabolic pathways, growth dynamics for both algae and bacteria and water purification dynamics.Overall, we were successful in inoculating municipal wastewater from Västerås wastewater treatment plant with algae from Lake Mälaren. The dominant algae growing in our systems belonged to the genera Scenedesmus, Desmodesmus and Chlorella. We also saw that the bacterial community was involved in synthesis of vitamins essential for algae growth. The information presented in this thesis is another step towards a better design of control and monitoring systems in full-scale photobioreactor plants.