Photosynthesis Research

, Volume 109, Issue 1–3, pp 231–247 | Cite as

Integration of microalgae cultivation with industrial waste remediation for biofuel and bioenergy production: opportunities and limitations

  • Patrick J. McGinn
  • Kathryn E. Dickinson
  • Shabana Bhatti
  • Jean-Claude Frigon
  • Serge R. Guiot
  • Stephen J. B. O’Leary


There is currently a renewed interest in developing microalgae as a source of renewable energy and fuel. Microalgae hold great potential as a source of biomass for the production of energy and fungible liquid transportation fuels. However, the technologies required for large-scale cultivation, processing, and conversion of microalgal biomass to energy products are underdeveloped. Microalgae offer several advantages over traditional ‘first-generation’ biofuels crops like corn: these include superior biomass productivity, the ability to grow on poor-quality land unsuitable for agriculture, and the potential for sustainable growth by extracting macro- and micronutrients from wastewater and industrial flue-stack emissions. Integrating microalgal cultivation with municipal wastewater treatment and industrial CO2 emissions from coal-fired power plants is a potential strategy to produce large quantities of biomass, and represents an opportunity to develop, test, and optimize the necessary technologies to make microalgal biofuels more cost-effective and efficient. However, many constraints on the eventual deployment of this technology must be taken into consideration and mitigating strategies developed before large scale microalgal cultivation can become a reality. As a strategy for CO2 biomitigation from industrial point source emitters, microalgal cultivation can be limited by the availability of land, light, and other nutrients like N and P. Effective removal of N and P from municipal wastewater is limited by the processing capacity of available microalgal cultivation systems. Strategies to mitigate against the constraints are discussed.


Microalgae biofuels Biomass Wastewater Flue gas 


  1. Asinari Di San Marzano C-M, Legros A, Naveau H, Nyns EJ (1981) Biomethanation of the marine algae Tetraselmis. Int J Sustain Energy 1(4):263–272CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Badger MR, Gallagher A (1987) Adaptation of photosynthetic CO2 and HCO3 -accumulation by the cyanobacterium Synechococcus PCC6301 to growth at different inorganic carbon concentrations. Aust J Plant Physiol 14:189–201Google Scholar
  3. Bassham JA, Benson AA, Kay LD, Harris AZ, Wilson AT, Calvin M (1954) The path of carbon in photosynthesis: the cyclic regeneration of carbon dioxide acceptor. J Am Chem Soc 76:1760–1770CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Ben-Amotz A, Avron M (1990) The biotechnology of cultivating the halo-tolerant alga Dunaliella. Trends Biotech 8:121–126CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  5. Benemann JR (1997) CO2 mitigation with microalgae systems. Ener Convers Mgmt 38:S475–S479CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. BP (2009) BP statistical review of world energy.
  7. Braun R (2007) Anaerobic digestion: a multi-facetted process for energy, environmental management and rural development. In: Springer PR (ed) Improvement of crop plants for industrial uses. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 335–416CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Briand X, Morand P (1997) Anaerobic digestion of Ulva sp. 1. Relationship between Ulva composition and methanisation. J Appl Phycol 9(6):511–524Google Scholar
  9. Brown LM (1996) Uptake of carbon dioxide from flue gas by microalgae. Energy Convers Mgmt 37:1363–1367CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Burlew JS (1953) Current status of the large-scale culture of algae. In: Burlew JS (ed) Algal culture from laboratory to pilot plant. Carnegie Institute of Washington Publication 600, Washington, pp 3–23Google Scholar
  11. Campbell MN (2008) Biodiesel: algae as a renewable source for liquid fuel. Guelph Eng J 1:2–7Google Scholar
  12. Campbell D, Zhou G, Gustafsson P, Oquist G, Clarke AK (1995) Electron transport regulates exchange of two forms of photosystem II D1 protein in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus. EMBO J 14:5457–5466PubMedGoogle Scholar
  13. Chen PH, Oswald WJ (1998) Thermochemical treatment for algal fermentation. Env Int 24(8):889–897CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  14. Chisti Y (2007) Biodiesel from microalgae. Biotechnol Adv 25:294–306PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Cirne DG, Paloumet X, Björnsson L, Alves MM, Mattiasson B (2007) Anaerobic digestion of lipid-rich waste—effects of lipid concentration. Renew Energy 32(6):965–975CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Clark DJ, Flynn KJ (2000) The relationship between the dissolved inorganic carbon concentration and growth rate in marine phytoplankton. Proc Biol Soc 267:953–959CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Cornacchio L, Hall ER, Trevors JT (1986) Modified serum bottle testing procedures forindustrial wastewaters. Technology Transfer Workshop on Laboratory Scale Anaerobic Treatability Testing Techniques, BurlingtonGoogle Scholar
  18. De Schamphelaire L, Verstraete W (2009) Revival of the biological sunlight-to-biogas energy conversion system. Biotech Bioeng 103(2):296–304CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  19. Demirbas A (2010) New renewable fuels from vegetable oils. Energy Sources A 32:628–636CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Doucha J, Straka F, Lívanský K (2005) Utilization of flue gas for cultivation of microalgae (Chlorella sp.) in an outdoor open thin-layer photobioreactor. J Appl Phycol 17:403–412CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Ethanol Industry Outlook (2010) Climate of opportunity.
  22. Falkowski PG (2000) Rationalizing elemental ratios in unicellular algae. J Phycol 36:3–6CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Geider RJ, LaRoche J (2002) Redfield revisited: variability of C:N:P in marine microalgae and its biochemical basis. Eur J Phycol 37:1–17CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gordillo FJL, Goutx M, Figueroa FL, Niell FX (1998) Effects of light intensity, CO2 and nitrogen supply on lipid class composition of Dunaliella viridis. J App Phycol 10:135–144CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  25. Gordillo FJL, Jiménez C, Figueroa FL, Niell FX (2003) Influence of elevated CO2 and nitrogen supply on the carbon assimilation performance and cell composition of the unicellular alga Dunaliella viridis. Physiol Plant 119:513–518CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Heaven S, Milledge J, Zhang Y (2011) Comments on ‘anaerobic digestion of microalgae as a necessary step to make microalgal biodiesel sustainable’. Biotech Adv 29(1):164–167CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Hu Q, Sommerfeld M, Jarvis E, Ghirardi M, Posewitz M, Seibert M, Darzins A (2008) Microalgal triacylglycerols as feedstocks for biofuel production: perspectives and advances. Plant J 54:621–639PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Huesemann MH, Hausmann TS, Bartha R, Aksoy M, Weissman JC, Benemann JR (2009) Biomass productivities in wild-type and pigment mutant of Cyclotella sp. (diatom). Appl Biochem Biotechnol 157:507–526PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Huntley ME, Redalje DG (2006) CO2 mitigation and renewable oil from photosynthetic microbes: a new appraisal. Mitig Adapt Strat Glob Change 12:573–608CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  30. Hutson ND, Krzyzynska R, Srivastava RK (2008) Simultaneous removal of SO2, NOx, and Hg from coal flue gas using a NaClO2-enhanced wet scrubber. Ind Eng Chem Res 47:5825–5831CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Kadam KL (1997) Power plant flue gas as a source of CO2 for microalgae cultivation: economic impact of different process options. Energy Convers Mgmt 38:S505–S510CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Lee J-S, Kim D-K, Lee J-P, Park S-C, Koh J-H, Cho H-S, Kim S-W (2002) Effect of SO2 and NO on growth of Chlorella sp. KR-1. Bioresour Tech 82:1–4CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Lundquist TJ, Woertz IC, Quinn NWT, Benemann JR (2010) A realistic technology and engineering assessment of algae biofuel production. In Proceedings of the algae biofuels assessment workshop, Berkeley, CA, USA, January 15–16, 2009Google Scholar
  34. Maeda K, Owada M, Kimura N, Omata K, Karube I (1995) CO2 fixation from the flue-gas of coal-fired thermal power plant by microalgae. Energy Convers Mgmt 36:717–720CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. McGinn PJ, Morel FMM (2008) Expression and inhibition of the carboxylating and decarboxylating enzymes of the photosynthetic C4 pathway of marine diatoms. Plant Physiol 146:300–309PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Melis A (2009) Solar energy conversion efficiencies in photosynthesis: minimizing that chlorophyll antennae to maximize efficieny. Plant Sci 177:272–280CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Melis A, Neidhardt J, Benemann JR (1999) Dunaliella salina (chlorophyta) with small chlorophyll antenna sizes exhibit higher photosynthetic productivities and photon use efficiencies than normally pigmented cells. J App Phycol 10:515–525CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Merkel TC, Lin H, Wei X, Baker R (2010) Power plant post-combustion carbon dioxide capture: an opportunity for membranes. J Mem Sci 359:126–139CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Muradyan EA, Klyachko-Gurvich GL, Tsoglin LN, Sergeyenko TV, Pronina NA (2004) Changes in lipid metabolism during adaptation of the Dunaliella salina photosynthetic apparatus to high CO2 concentration. Russ J Plant Physiol 51:53–62CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Nakajima Y, Ueda R (1997) Imporvement of photosynthesis in dense microalgal suspension by reduction of light harvesting pigments. J App Phycol 9:503–510Google Scholar
  41. Nakajima Y, Tsuzuki M, Ueda R (2001) Improved productivity by reduction of the content of light-harvesting pigment in Chlamydomonas perigranulata. J App Phycol 13:95–101CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Negoro M, Shioji N, Ikuta Y, Makita T, Hirayama K, Suzuki S (1993) Carbon dioxide fixation by microalgae photosynthesis using actual flue gas discharged from a boiler. Appl Biochem Biotechnol 39–40:643–653CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Ogbonna JC, Soejima T, Tanaka H (1999) An integrated solar and artificial light system for internal illumination of photobioreactors. Prog Indust Microbiol 35:289–297CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Olson ES, Crocker CR, Benson SA, Pavlish JH, Holmes MJ (2005) Surface compositions of carbon sorbents exposed to simulated low-rank coal flue gases. J Air Waste Manage Assoc 55:747–754Google Scholar
  45. Oswald WJ, Golueke C (1960) Biological transformation of solar energy. Adv Appl Microbiol 2:223–262PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Ota M, Kato Y, Watanabe H, Watanabe M, Sato Y, Smith RL, Inomata H (2009) Fatty acid production from a highly CO2 tolerant alga, Chlorocuccum littorale, in the presence of inorganic carbon and nitrate. Biores Tech 100:5237–5242CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Pavlostathis SG (2006) Basic concept of biological processes. In: Cervantes FJ, Pavlostathis SG, van Haandel AC (eds) Advanced biological treatment processes for industrial wastewaters. IWA Publishing, London, pp 16–46Google Scholar
  48. Philip L, Deshusses MA (2003) Sulfur dioxide treatment from flue gases using a biotrickling filter-bioreactor system. Env Sci Technol 37:1978–1982CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Pienkos PT, Darzins A (2009) The promise and challenges of microalgal-derived biofuels. Biofuels Bioprod Bioref 3:431–440CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  50. Pronina NA, Rogova NB, Furnadzhieva S, Klyachko-Gurvich GL, Semenenko VE (1998) Effect of CO2 concentration of the fatty acid composition of lipids in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii Cia-3, a mutant deficient in the CO2 concentrating mechanism. Russ J Plant Physiol 45:529–538Google Scholar
  51. Pulz O (2001) Photobioreactors: production systems for phototrophic microorganisms. Appl Microbiol Biotechnol 57:287–293PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Ramos MJ, Fernández CM, Casas A, Rodríguez L, Pérez A (2009) Influence of fatty acid composition of raw materials on biodiesel properties. Bioresour Tech 100:261–268CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  53. Redfield AC (1934) On the proportions of organic derivatives in sea water and their relation to the composition of plankton. In: Daniel RJ (ed) James Johnstone Memorial Volume. Liverpool University Press, Liverpool, pp 177–192Google Scholar
  54. Redfield AC (1958) The biological control of chemical factors in the environment. Am Sci 46:205–221Google Scholar
  55. Reinfelder JR (2010) Carbon concentrating mechanisms in eukaryotic marine phytoplankton. Ann Rev Mar Sci 3:291–315CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  56. Reinfelder JR, Kraepiel AML, Morel FMM (2000) Unicellular C4 photosynthesis in a marine diatom. Nature 407:996–999PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  57. Renberg L, Johansson AI, Shutova T, Stenlund H, Aksmann A, Raven JA, Gardeström P, Moritz T, Samuelsson G (2010) A metabolomic approach to study major metabolite changes during acclimation to limiting CO2 in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Plant Physiol 154:187–196PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  58. Rico-Villa B, Woerther P, Minganta C, Lepiver D, Pouvreau S, Hamon M, Robert R (2008) A flow-through rearing system for ecophysiological studies of Pacific oyster Crassostrea gigas larvae. Aquacult 282:54–60CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  59. Riebesell U (2004) Effects of CO2 enrichment on marine phytoplankton. J Oceanogr 60:719–729CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Riebesell U, Wolf-Gladrow DA, Smetacek V (1993) Carbon dioxide limitation of marine phytoplankton growth rates. Nature 361:249–251CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  61. Riebesell U, Revill AT, Holdsworth DG, Volkman J (2000) The effects of varying CO2 concentration on lipid composition and carbon isotope fractionation in Emiliania huxleyi. Geochim Cosmochim Acta 64:4179–4192CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  62. Rodolfi L, Zittelli GC, Bassi N, Padovani G, Biondi N, Bonini G, Tredici MR (2008) Microalgae for oil: strain selection, induction of lipid synthesis and outdoor mass cultivation in a low-cost photobioreactor. Biotechnol Bioeng 102:100–112CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Samson R, LeDuy A (1983a) Improved performance of anaerobic digestion of Spirulina maxima algal biomass by adition of carbon-rich wastes. Biotechnol Lett 5(10):677–682CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Samson R, LeDuy A (1983b) Influence of mechanical and chemical pretreatments on anaerobic digestion of Spirulina maxima algal biomass. Biotechnol Lett 5(10):671–676CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  65. Samson R, LeDuy A (1986) Detailed study of anaerobic digestion of Spirulina maxima algal biomass. Biotech Bioeng 28(7):1014–1023CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Sato N (1989) Modulation of lipid and fatty acid content by carbon dioxide in Chlamydomonas reinhardtii. Plant Sci 61:17–21CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  67. Searchinger T, Heimlich R, Houghton RA, Dong F, Elobeid A, Fabiosa J, Tokgoz S, Hayes D, Yu TH (2008) Use of U.S. croplands for biofuels increases greenhouse gases through emissions from land-use change. Science 319:1238–1240PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  68. Sheehan JT, Dunahay J, Benemann JR, Roessler PG (1998) A look back at the US Department of Energy’s Aquatic Species Program—biodiesel from algae.
  69. Shelton DR, Tiedje JM (1984) General method for determining anaerobic biodegradation potential. Appl Env Microbiol 47(4):850–857Google Scholar
  70. Sialve G, Bernet N, Bernard O (2009) Anaerobic digestion of microalgae as a necessary step to make microalgal biodiesel sustainable. Biotechnol Adv 27(4):409–416PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  71. Singh A, Nigam PS, Murphy JD (2011) Mechanism and challenges in commercialisation of algal biofuels. Bioresour Technol 102(1):26–34PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Sültemeyer D, Price GD, Badger MR (1995) Characterization of carbon dioxide and bicarbonate uptake during steady-state photosynthesis in the marine cyanobacterium Synechococcus PCC7002. Planta 197:597–607CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  73. Tatsuzawa H, Takizawa E, Wada M, Yamamoto Y (1996) Fatty acid and lipid composition of the acidophilic green alga Chlamydomonas sp. 1. J Phycol 32(4):598–601CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Travieso L, Sanchez EP, Benitez F, Conde JL (1993) Arthrospira sp. intensive cultures for food and biogas purification. Biotechnol Lett 15(10):1091–1094CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  75. Tredici MR, Materassi R (1992) From open ponds to vertical alveolar panels: the Italian experience in the development of reactors for the mass cultivation of phototrophic mircroorganisms. J Appl Phycol 4:221–231CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  76. Tsuzuki M, Ohnuma E, Sato N, Takaku T, Kawaguchi A (1990) Effects of CO2 concentration during growth on fatty acid composition in microalgae. Plant Physiol 93:851–856PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  77. Ugwu CU, Aoyagi H, Uchiyama H (2008) Photobioreactors for mass cultivation of algae. Bioresour Technol 99:4021–4028PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  78. UOP LLC (2008) Renewable jet process.
  79. Wada H, Murata N (1998) Membrane lipids in cyanobacteria. In: Siegenthaler PA, Murata N (eds) Lipids in photosynthesis: structure function and genetics. Kluwer Academic Publishers, Dordrecht, pp 65–81Google Scholar
  80. Wijffels RH, Barbosa MJ (2010) An outlook on microalgal biofuels. Science 329:796–799PubMedCrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Yoshihara K, Hiroyasu N, Eguchi K, Hirata K, Miyamoto K (1996) Biological elimination of nitric oxide and carbon dioxide from flue gas by marine microalga NOA-113 cultivated in a long tubular photobioreactor. J Ferm Bioeng 82:351–354CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  82. Yu J-W, Price GD, Badger MR (1994) Characterisation of CO2 and HCO3-uptake during steady-state photosynthesis in the cyanobacterium Synechococcus PCC7942. Aust J Plant Physiol 21:185–195CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  83. Zamalloa C, Vulsteke E, Albrecht J, Verstraete W (2011) The techno-economic potential of renewable energy through the anaerobic digestion of microalgae. Bioresour Tech 102(2):1149–1158CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Zhang S-H, Cai L-L, Mi X-H, Jiang J-L, Li W (2008) NOx removal from simulated flue gas by chemical absorption-biological reduction integrated approach in a biofilter. Env Sci Technol 42:3814–3820CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  85. Zhila NO, Kalacheva GS, Volova TG (2005) Effect of nitrogen limitation on the growth and lipid composition of the green alga Botryococcus braunii Kutz IPPAS H-252. Russ J Plant Physiol 52:311–319CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Her Majesty the Queen in Right of Canada 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  • Patrick J. McGinn
    • 1
  • Kathryn E. Dickinson
    • 1
  • Shabana Bhatti
    • 1
  • Jean-Claude Frigon
    • 2
  • Serge R. Guiot
    • 2
  • Stephen J. B. O’Leary
    • 1
  1. 1.Institute for Marine BiosciencesNational Research Council of CanadaHalifaxCanada
  2. 2.Biotechnology Research InstituteNational Research Council of CanadaMontrealCanada

Personalised recommendations