Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Trygve Lundquist


In conventional wastewater treatment, biological nutrient removal (BNR) depends on bacterial assimilation for phosphorus removal and nitrification+denitrification for nitrogen removal, with the resulting loss of the fixed nitrogen resource. Alternatively, treatment by microalgae allows for assimilative removal of both phosphorus (P) and nitrogen (N) thereby avoiding the oxygen demand of nitrification and preserving fixed N for fertilizer use. Paddle wheel mixed high-rate ponds have much higher algal productivity than typical oxidation ponds, but even high-rate ponds often cannot grow sufficient algae to completely assimilate the N and P in domestic wastewater. Algae growth in high-rate ponds is usually limited by the inorganic carbon concentration. Addition of carbon dioxide to high-rate ponds, for example from flue gas, eliminates this limitation and accelerates algae growth and nutrient assimilation. This laboratory study explored the extent to which soluble N and P are removed simultaneously by CO2-enriched algae cultures.

Algal polycultures were grown on diluted domestic wastewater media that were manipulated to obtain a wide range of N:P ratios (2.5:1 to 103:1). In addition, two levels of trace metal concentrations were studied. Media feeding was semi-continuous. The variables monitored included N and P removals, the range of N:P ratios in the algal biomass, biomass production, and alkalinity. To achieve removal of total N and P, suspended solids also must be removed prior to discharge. Since flocculation and settling is a preferred method of algae removal, the effects of low dissolved nutrient concentrations and media composition on algae sinking potential (settleability) were also investigated.

The low trace metal cultures achieved >99% total ammonia nitrogen (TAN) removal for N:P ratios 2.5 through 30 and >98% dissolved reactive phosphorus (DRP) removal for N:P ratios 2.5 through 60 (with one exception at N:P-20). This removal was due to the growth of 180-500 mg/L algal volatile solids. Effluent concentrations were <0.1 mg/L TAN for N:P 2.5 through 30, and <0.5 mg/L TAN for N:P-60. DRP effluent concentrations were ≤0.02 mg/L DRP. After 24 hours of settling in beakers, nearly all cultures had total suspended solids (TSS) concentrations <40 mg/L. Alkalinity consumption increased with increasing N:P ratios.

For cultures with the higher trace metal concentrations, nutrient removal was similar: >96% of TAN and >95.9% DRP removal for all N:P conditions. However, settling with these media was poor. TSS concentrations after 24-h of settling were >100 mg/L. No clear relationship for alkalinity was found for these cultures.

N:P ratios in the algal biomass correlated with the N:P ratios in the media, except for control cultures that did not receive wastewater. No relationship was found between settling and the N:P ratios of the media or biomass. Nitrogen-fixing algae thrived in media containing N:P ratios of 2.5:1 and 5:1.

Algae were found to be plastic in their cellular N:P ratios (4.6 to 63, with wastewater media) which allowed them to simultaneously remove both dissolved N and P to low levels, while growing settleable biomass. These results indicate that CO2-enriched high rate pond systems would be useful in simultaneously removing N and P from wastewaters with a wide range of N:P ratios.