Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 100, Issue 21, pp 9013–9022 | Cite as

Wastewater treatment using microalgae: how realistic a contribution might it be to significant urban wastewater treatment?

  • F. Gabriel AciénEmail author
  • C. Gómez-Serrano
  • M. M. Morales-Amaral
  • J. M. Fernández-Sevilla
  • E. Molina-Grima


Microalgae have been proposed as an option for wastewater treatment since the 1960s, but still, this technology has not been expanded to an industrial scale. In this paper, the major factors limiting the performance of these systems are analysed. The composition of the wastewater is highly relevant, and especially the presence of pollutants such as heavy metals and emerging compounds. Biological and engineering aspects are also critical and have to be improved to at least approximate the performance of conventional systems, not just in terms of capacity and efficiency but also in terms of robustness. Finally, the harvesting of the biomass and its processing into valuable products pose a challenge; yet at the same time, an opportunity exists to increase economic profitability. Land requirement is a major bottleneck that can be ameliorated by improving the system’s photosynthetic efficiency. Land requirement has a significant impact on the economic balance, but the profits from the biomass produced can enhance these systems’ reliability, especially in small cities.


Microalgae Wastewater Nutrient recovery Photosynthetic efficiency Photobioreactors 



This research was supported by EDARSOL CTQ2014-57293-C3 (Spanish Ministry of Science and Innovation) and the PURALGA RTA2013-0056-C03 (INIA) projects. We are most grateful to the Estación Experimental Las Palmerillas of the Fundación Cajamar for collaborating in this research. This research was supported by the Junta de Andalucía and the Plan Andaluz de Investigación (BIO 173).

Compliance with ethical standards

This paper has been developed accomplishing the guidelines for ethical responsibility of authors. This is an original work performed by the authors that has not been previously submitted to other journal. Data has been not manipulated or altered. The text was written avoiding plagiarism from other previous published papers.

This work is part of the research performed by the authors in several projects, all of them supported by governmental founds, without conflict with companies or other funding entities.

Conflict of interest

Authors declare that they have not conflict of interest on the publication of this paper and data on it contained.

Human and animal rights and informed consent

In this work, no animals or humans are used. This article does not contain any studies with human participants or animals performed by any of the authors.


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  • F. Gabriel Acién
    • 1
    Email author
  • C. Gómez-Serrano
    • 1
  • M. M. Morales-Amaral
    • 1
  • J. M. Fernández-Sevilla
    • 1
  • E. Molina-Grima
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of Chemical EngineeringUniversity of AlmeríaAlmeríaSpain

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