Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology

, Volume 103, Issue 8, pp 3571–3580 | Cite as

Nutrient removal in an algal membrane photobioreactor: effects of wastewater composition and light/dark cycle

  • Prashant Praveen
  • Kai-Chee LohEmail author
Environmental biotechnology


Graesiella emersonii was cultivated in an osmotic membrane photobioreactor (OMPBR) for nutrients removal from synthetic wastewater in continuous mode. At 1.5 days of hydraulic retention time and under continuous illumination, the microalgae removed nitrogen (N) completely at influent NH4+-N concentrations of 4–16 mg/L, with removal rates of 3.03–12.1 mg/L-day. Phosphorus (P) removal in the OMPBR was through biological assimilation as well as membrane rejection, but PO43−-P assimilation by microalgae could be improved at higher NH4+-N concentrations. Microalgae biomass composition was affected by N/P ratio in wastewater, and a higher N/P ratio resulted in higher P accumulation in the biomass. The OMPBR accumulated about 0.35 g/L biomass after 12 days of operation under continuous illumination. However, OMPBR operation under 12 h light/12 h dark cycle lowered biomass productivity by 60%, which resulted in 20% decrease in NH4+-N removal and nearly threefold increase in PO43−-P accumulation in the OMPBR. Prolonged dark phase also affected carbohydrate accumulation in biomass, although its effects on lipid and protein accumulation were negligible. The microalgae also exhibited high tendency to aggregate and settle, which could be attributed to reduction in cell surface charge and enrichment of soluble algal products in the OMPBR. Due to a relatively shorter operating period, membrane biofouling and salt accumulation did not influence the permeate flux significantly. These results improve the understanding of the effects of N/P ratio and light/dark cycle on biomass accumulation and nutrients removal in the OMPBR.


Forward osmosis Membrane photobioreactor Microalgae Nutrients removal Wastewater treatment 


Funding information

This research was funded by the Singapore National Research Foundation under its Competitive Research Program for the project entitled, “Advanced FO Membranes and Membrane Systems for Wastewater Treatment, Water Reuse and Seawater Desalination” (Grant number: R-279-000-338-281).

Compliance with ethical standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical approval

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 GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Clean TechnologyScionRotoruaNew Zealand
  2. 2.Department of Chemical & Biomolecular EngineeringNational University of SingaporeSingaporeSingapore

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