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Using microalgae to treat wastewater and at the same time, obtain high value products - biofuels & high value biomass.



The main focus is on the treatment of different types of wastewater (WW) with simultaneous production of algal biomass for lipid extraction to obtain biofuel, and utilization of the residual biomass for animal and aquaculture feed. Open raceway pond system and close system will be used to cultivate microalgae (monoculture/mixed culture), and these provide excellent perspectives for the treatment of WW. Low quality water with high biological oxygen demand (BOD) and high chemical oxygen demand (COD) can be used for growing microalgae, which effectively remove nitrogen and phosphate from these streams. Preliminary research has shown a reduction of heavy metal, suspended solids, BOD, and COD. After separation of microalgae, the purified water can be reused for industrial purposes while the microalgal biomass can be harvested for biofuel; plus, the extracted residual biomass with high protein and carbohydrates is suitable for animal and aquaculture feed.

Research studies by Algaetech have shown that some microalgae strains have the ability to reduce BOD by 96% and COD by 93, while turbidity and heavy metals are kept at acceptable range. Concomitantly, the microalgal biomass can be converted to biofuel by means of extraction and distillation, and its high nutrient residue can be used as animal and aquaculture feed. Also, as microalgae are a natural consumer of carbon dioxide and emitter of oxygen, our environment is kept clean througout the process. Therefore, wastewater which is readily available in any regions can be a mean for CO2/O2 balance, and also converted to one of the world's most wanted commodity – fuel, while maintaining food sustainability.

In addition, the biomass residue can be degraded anaerobically with the help of methanogenic bacteria to produce high value biomethane. Indeed, adding cow dungs can speed up the process, thus concomitantly reducing the release of methane to the atmosphere resulted from the degradation of the dungs. 

Category of the action

Reducing emissions from waste management

What actions do you propose?

We propose the use of Microalgae Integrated Management Systems (AIMsys) to maximize the utilization of microalgae for bioremediation, and to yield high quantity and quality of microalgal lipids for biofuel. The process is a versatile, low cost, and sustainable solution comprising of ponds and photo bioreactors linked in a sequence. This system does not require de-sludging or sludge handling, as it operates sludge free. The microalgae are grown in ponds and/or photo bioreactors, which in combination with sufficient retention times, suitable pH levels, dissolved gases, and sunlight, the microalgae are able to bioremediate the wastewater effluent. The microalgae will grow exponentially due to the presence of excessive organic nutrients in the wastewater, thus avoiding any consumption of fertilizers and fresh water unlike the other common biofuel producing plants such as palm oil, jatropha, and corn. Furthermore, the analyzed lipid content of the utilized microalgae is 32% of the weight, with 73% of the oil composed of C14 and C15 fatty acids. 

AIMsys can be affected in 2L, 25L, 60L and 100L capacities for trial and industrial uses. These are specialized transparent glassware that have been piped with inlets/outlets, aeration fittings, and technical control units. Technical control units will monitor and control essential parameters that are necessary for the microalgae growth, while the system can be adequately powered by solar energy. Upon further advancement, AIMsys can be expanded to include individual home system that has AIMsys tanks to collect wastewater, and utilize microalgae technology for on-the-spot wastewater treatment. In contrast to many conventional wastewater management methods, AIMsys will reduce carbon dioxide and increase oxygen content in the atmosphere, while producing high value biomass and discharging reusable water streams.

However, during the production of biomass, harvesting and drying any moisture rich microalgae require intensive energy. The essential processes include sonication of microalgal cell wall, centrifugation to collect the cell, and freeze-drying to dry the biomass at certain thermal condition without compromising its contents. Therefore, we would like to propose an innovative one step separation of product and biomass using low energy electro-treatment, namely Project Electro. Basically, Project Electro takes away the necessity of separated centrifugation and extraction processes; rather it combines these processes into a single, energy saving process. Furthermore, one interesting by-product from this solution could be the evolution of hydrogen, which can be captured and used as a power generation to off-set the demand on fossil fuel derived power.

Also, an effective education system is required to create an awareness of the fact that microalgae is not just a slimy substance we see in pools or ponds; rather, it has high value for bioremediation purposes and should be studied at many different levels. Hence, universities, research institutions, and government agencies should pay close attention to microalgal technology. In some regions of the world, the study and utilization of microalgae technology have been recognized under the agricultural sector. However, in many other regions, the idea of microalgal technology still remains a strange industry, and does not receive the needed attention. Consequently, the advancement of microalgal technology for bioremediation is crippled in such regions while solutions are still sought for. We strongly advise that microalgal technology be introduced in modules to be taught in universities. Therefore, the untapped advantages of microalgal technology can come to limelight.

Furthermore, a new or already existing synergy should be harnessed for further improvement of microalgal technology, to create synergy and sustainable energy consumption. Many global players in different industries have shown concerns about our environment. However, only few have taken ground-breaking, innovative steps to remediate our environment. Some reasons those organizations have been giving are cost limitation and lack of financial interest. Therefore, AIMsys was specifically designed provide these organizations an opportunity to bioremediate our environment, while their financial interests remain protected. More cross-networking events for microalgae technology players, and industry experts should be organized by government agencies and concerned organizations.

Who will take these actions?

The key actors of the proposed project are:

1. Wastewater management companies worldwide

2. Government Parastata in charge of wastewater disposals

3. Ministry of Education and concerned academic institutions worldwide

4. Oil and gas companies worldwide

Where will these actions be taken?

The initial targets are the developed and developing countries with specific focus in Asian, European, Middle East and African regions.

What are other key benefits?

With the implementation of our proposed actions, more jobs will spin off - teachers for new modules or curriculum, industry workers for biofuel downstream processing, field workers for AIMsys home units, and expatriates for other upstream and downstream processes.

In addition, the utilization of high nutritional values of microalgae biomass as animal and aquaculture feed, will lead to the booming of livestock and aquaculture industries. 

Furthermore, we believe that the perception of the society towards wastewater will susbequently change, as the society becomes more cautious of waste that they generate

How much will emissions be reduced or sequestered vs. business as usual levels?

For wastewater management companies, a quick reduction of 90 to 96% of COD and BOD means that the amount of time spent in treating wastewater will be reduced; hence, efficiency in wastewater management will be increased.

Within 10 years of mass implementation of AIMsys, we expected at least 10% reduction of dangerous effluents from wastewater in Asian region.

According to World Data Bank, countries in Asian region and the world at large are yet experiencing a very substantial reduction in carbon dioxide emissions. For example, Indonesia is emitting 2 tons of carbon dioxide per capita amounting to about 452,000kt of carbon dioxide. At this current emission rate, in 10 years, we forecasted that carbon dioxide emission will increase by another 208,430kt. However, utilization of AIMsysTM will keep oxygen levels high and drive carbon dioxide levels down. In such regions like Indonesia, we forecasted a reduction of at least 46,000kt of carbon dioxide.


What are the proposal’s costs?

Proposed cost of the project depends largely on the determined size of AIMsys to be built. To successfully build a system that can cater for about 1 million liters of wastewater per run, we budget an estimated cost of about USD700, 000.

The cost will cover salaries for project leader, researcher officers, downstream workers, and engineers, a fully equipped research laboratory, conference, paper publishing, and trademark and patenting fees. Some necessary laboratory equipment for pilot scale research and development (R&D) purposes are gas chromatography, high performance liquid chromatography, BOD and COD analyzer, solid weight analyzer, moisture analyzer, lyophilizer, and stereoscopic zoom microscope.

In contrast to conventional wastewater treatment methods, wastewater bioremediation using microalgae is more expensive due to the procurement of high technological machinery, and preliminary R&D. Nevertheless, the complementary lucrative economic values that come with this bioremediation process will off-set the short term high R&D and processing costs, while providing long-term high return on investment and ensuring food and energy sustainability

Time line

Procurement, civil construction and system construction of large scale AIMsys will take 3 to 5 years. At the same time, education and synergy networking will be implemented.

Within the next 2 years, further research will be conducted to investigate further on the viability and strategies for the implementation of home unit AIMsys.

Within another 1 or 2 years, approvals and government endorsements will be obtained from local authorities where home unit AIMsys will be used.

Further implementation, expansion, and management of AIMsys will continue in the following years.

Related proposals


World Development Indicators, World Data Bank.

Poonguzhali. V. and G. Mayakkannan. 2009. “Physico – chemical characterization and phytoplankton studies of water from Dal lake, Kashmir Himalaya. Ind. J. Bot. Res. 2009. 5 (3 & 4): 211 – 218

Syed Isa Syed Alwi. 2010. Proceedings for 2nd International Conference and Exhibition W2W & 6th I-CEPEC “Advance Emission Control System;  CO2 Sequestration Using Algae Integrated Management System (AIMS)” published Sept. 26 2010

Algaetech database

Algaetech International. Waste Management. Algaetech International Database, updated 2013. Web. July 15. 2013.

Algaetech International. Bioremediation of Palm Oil Mill Efflluent and Leachate Using Algae Based Wastewater Treatment SystemAlgaetech International Database, 2011. Web. July 15. 2013.

Algaetech International. AIMsys. Algaetech International Database, updated 2013. Web. July 15. 2013.

Algaetech International. Methane Capture. Algaetech International Database, updated 2013. Web. July 15. 2013.

Algaetech International. Pome and Leachate. Algaetech International Database, updated 2013. Web. July 15. 2013.