Familiarity, teamwork help micro-algae treat wastewater

· 2 min read

Familiarity, teamwork help micro-algae treat wastewater
Pocket Science: Exploring the 'What,' 'So what' and 'Now what' of Husker research

.
Scott Schrage | University Communication

Welcome to Pocket Science: a glimpse at recent research from Husker scientists and engineers. For those who want to quickly learn the “What,” “So what” and “Now what” of Husker research.

.

What?

Water used in meat processing — cleaning carcasses, sterilizing lactic acid — often gets polluted with nitrogen and phosphorus, threatening the environment and limiting the water’s use for other purposes.

Microscopic algae have shown promise for removing the pollutants more efficiently and less expensively than traditional methods. After consuming the nitrogen and phosphorus, some species of micro-algae can also convert them into compounds suitable for biofuels.

But most micro-algae cannot tolerate such harsh wastewater unless it’s pretreated with techniques that are difficult and expensive to implement on industrial scales.

So what?

Nebraska’s Yulie Meneses Gonzalez and colleagues acclimated multiple species of micro-algae to similarly harsh conditions, growing them in synthetic wastewater before transferring the species to actual wastewater from a local beef-packaging plant.

.
Yulie Meneses Gonzalez

The team found that this acclimation helped several species adapt to the wastewater, allowing them to grow substantially better than their non-acclimated counterparts. The researchers also identified a cocktail of three micro-algae species that surpassed individual species at removing nitrogen and phosphorus.

Together, the findings may help reduce pollution and raise biofuel production at smaller meat-processing plants.

Now what?

Because the wastewater’s pollutants remained above thresholds set by the Environmental Protection Agency, researchers should explore other potential micro-algae cocktails, the team said.