Date of Award


Degree Name

MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering


Civil and Environmental Engineering


Tryg Lundquist


Microalgae harvested from wastewater treatment ponds can be anaerobically digested to produce biogas, a renewable fuel resource. However, past experiments have shown some limitations of algae digestion. Algal cell walls are thought to be resistant to digestion, and the high protein content of algae can lead to ammonia toxicity in digesters. Co-digestion of algae with substrates containing higher C:N ratios (e.g., waste paper) can be used to maintain non-inhibitory ammonia concentrations and increase methane production. However, high carbon waste co-substrates have become costly or are not readily available in many communities. Although domestic wastewater sludge has only a marginally higher C:N ratio than algae biomass, sludge is a practical co-substrate for treatment pond facilities using primary sedimentation. The present laboratory research evaluated the use of wastewater sludge as a co-substrate with treatment pond algae that were harvested by coagulation and dissolved air flotation. The research was meant to assist in the planning for full-scale algae digestion at a large pond facility in California. The independent variables evaluated were algae/sludge ratio in the digester feed (100% to 0%), organic loading rate (OLR; 2 or 4 g volatile solids/L-d), and hydraulic residence time (HRT; 20 or 40 d), while the main dependent variables were methane yield, volumetric methane production, and the dewaterability of the digester effluents. Co-digestion of algae with sludge was stable, with healthy pH, at all algae/sludge ratios with OLRs up to 4 g volatile solids loaded per liter digester per day (g VS/L-d) at a 20-d HRT. For digesters fed algae biomass exclusively, at a 2 g VS/L-d OLR and a 20-d HRT, the methane yield was 0.26 L/g VS-d and methane productivity was 0.52 g VS/L digester-d. A control digester fed sludge exclusively, with the same loading rate, produced more methane: the yield was 0.44 L/g VS-d and production was 0.87 L/L-d. No significant synergistic benefit in algae methane yield was observed due to co-digestion with wastewater sludge. The effluent from digesters fed only algae dewatered as effectively or better than digesters fed only wastewater sludge. However, freezing of the algae biomass prior to digestion could have affected the results. An engineering model was developed to estimate heating requirements and net electricity production for full-scale algae digesters. For two example climates (Mediterranean and continental desert), the model predicted that despite the lower methane production of algae digestion, heat recovered from cogeneration and electricity generation would be more than sufficient to fulfill the inputs required for algae digestion. For facultative pond wastewater treatment facilities with existing collection and digestion of primary sludge, addition of the algae produced to the digesters is expected to increase electricity production by 120%.