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Algae Technologies - Nexus of Biofuels Production with Wastewater Treatment

In the last few years there has been a large movement by up to 50 small companies supported by DOE, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), venture capital and private investors using algae to produce biofuels primary in the form of biodiesel and jet fuels.   In addition, universities and companies, both large and small, are pursuing this opportunity.  This process could impact the water and wastewater community as algae requires large volumes of water and the scale of these operations will entail large-scale engineering efforts for producing fuels or chemical feedstock based upon the lipids produced.  Many of these companies bank their strategies on using brackish water or wastewater as a feed. 

The Water Environment Federation formed an Algae Technologies Working Group in February 2009 to investigate the nexus of the algae technologies and wastewater industries.  For the wastewater industry, production of algae for biofuels, nutraceuticals, and other co-products may offer several opportunities such as:

  • Utilizing wastewater as a product feedstock for the algae industry
  • Removal of nutrients from feedstock wastewater by the algae industry
  • Utilizing wastewater to grow algae within the wastewater treatment plant for wastewater treatment, removal of nutrients, and production of biofuels

There are many considerations that must be addressed including:  transportation of the feedstock wastewater, climate effects on algae growth, sustainability of the algae biofuels industry, regulatory issues and hurdles, scale-up to commerical operation and expertise needed for scale-up, nutrient reductions and nutrient products, water usage, discharge concerns, and costs. 

Following an initial meeting held at WEFTEC'08 and formation of the Working Group, WEF has worked with the Algal Biomass Organization on two joint sessions, one at the 2009 Algae Biomass Summit and another at WEFTEC'09.  A listing of presentation titles is below. 

WEFTEC'09 Session - Algae Technologies

  • Producing Fuels and Chemical from Algae and the Intersection of the Water Industry
  • Algae Harvesting with a High Rate Water Processing Technology:  Dissolved Air Flotation
  • Nutient Removal and Greenhouse Gas Abatement with CO2 Supplemental Algal High Rate Ponds
  • Promise and Challenge of Algae Biofuels
  • Non-Technical Issues to Consider in Developing Wastewater Algae Biofuel

2009 Algae Biomass Summit - Nexus of Wastewater and Algae Biofuels

  • Introduction to the Water Environment Federation
  • Producing Fuels and Chemicals from Algae and the Intersection of the Water Industry
  • Point and Nonpoint Source Algae Based Water Treatment Systems
  • Applicability of Wastewater Treatment Separation Technologies to Algal Biomass Production
  • The Links Between Algal Biofuels and Wastewater Treatment
  • Wastewater Treatment High Rate Algal Ponds for Biofuel Production

Currently Planned WEF Algae Technologies Working Group Activities for 2010

  • 2010 Algae Biomass Summit (September 2010) - Session on algae technologies sponsored by WEF (pending approval)
  • WEFTEC'10 (October 2010) - Session on algae technologies sponsored by Algae Biomass Organization (pending approval)
  • WEFTEC'10 - Algae Technologies Working Group Meeting

If you are interested in learning more about WEF activities in this area or getting involved, contact Seth Brown at