Name: Tim James
Research Title: An investigation into the impact of growing microalgae on brewery wastewater in relation to wastewater remediation, sequestration of carbon dioxide (CO2) from flue gases
Name of Director of Studies: Dr Lynsey Melville
Key Contact Details - Email: Tim.James@bcu.ac.uk
About the Project: Global climate change is seen as one of the most important environmental problems facing the world today. It is caused by greenhouse gases (GHG), of which carbon dioxide (CO2) is the main contributor. These gases are released from human activities such as agriculture, power generation and industrial processes. The need to address climate change has led policymakers to search for solutions to these problems. One potential method is carbon capture by microscopic aquatic plants known as microalgae.
Algae are able to take in CO2 from the atmosphere whilst producing biomass that may be used to produce biofuels and range of high value chemicals. Algae require nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous to grow, and as these key requirements are expensive, it has been proposed that wastewater from a range of sources, which are high in these nutrients, may be used to culture the algae. The algae, by removing these nutrients from the wastewater, are in essence treating it whilst producing viable products at the same time. My research therefore is investigating the use of a specific wastewater source (brewery wastewater) to culture algae, whilst treating the water and removing atmospheric CO2 simultaneously.
Research Activities: A specifically designed testing rig has been used that allows the microalgae to be cultured in an environment where variables such as light and temperature may be controlled to simulate different environmental conditions. The rig also allows CO2 to be supplied to the microalgae at concentrations, which reflect atmospheric emissions released from different industrial processes.
As part of the research programme, wastewater has been subjected to a range of physical and chemical analyses to enable characterisation of the water and to establish nutrient removal rates by microalgae. Microalgae have been analysed to establish growth patterns and productivity utilising both cell counts and dry cell weights. The research programme has adopted a matrix system, whereby different variables such as CO2, wastewater concentrations and microalgae have be tested to see how each element interacts together and independently.
Findings: From culturing the microalgae on standard culture mediums supplemented with CO2 it has been found that growth rates have increased. Characterisation of wastewater from a brewery process found that concentrations of key nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous were at levels that matched the microalgae’s own nutrient requirements.
Achievements: Microalgae has the ability to capture carbon from the atmosphere, and through the treatment of wastewater this will benefit society from an environmental point of view.
The production of biofuels and high value chemicals will further benefit society by providing a sustainable biological alternative to industries, which produce these products using chemicals and processes that are harmful to the environment.
Affiliations: Marstons Brewery in Wolverhampton.