Wastewater lagoons are potential energy source, researchers say

January 30, 2014
Stefanie Kring, an environmental science and engineering Ph.D. student at Clarkson University, has discovered the potential biofuel content of microbes that live in local waste water treatment lagoons.

(Phys.org) —Wastewater treatment lagoons have the potential to serve as a local energy source, according to a Clarkson University doctoral student.

Stefanie Kring, an environmental science and engineering Ph.D. student, has discovered the potential biofuel content of microbes that live in local lagoons. Kring regularly visited the Canton, N.Y., aerated lagoons during a summer research project.

She found the sunlit 8.5 acre lagoons full of planktonic (free-floating) organisms. "These were the same types of organisms that we would normally see in any lake, river or pond nearby, except that here the biomass was much, much higher," said Biology Professor Michael Twiss, who served as Kring's doctoral thesis supervisor.

Although the biofuel amount from these aerated wastewater lagoons is relatively small, these systems are found across the landscapes in New York and elsewhere in the nation. "At present, these lagoons are designed solely for wastewater treatment, but if the design could be modified to also serve the purpose of greater biofuel production then we may have found a productive path to satisfying some local needs for useful energy such as biodiesel," said Professor Susan Powers, the Spence Professor in Sustainable Environmental Systems at Clarkson University and co-investigator in this project.

Kring's analysis showed that the amount of algae was far lower than would be expected based on the high level of nutrients that were present. "How could this be and where were the algae going?" she asked.

The answer lay in the numbers of living in the lagoons. Zooplankton are shrimp-like crustaceans that feed primarily on algae in the water column. Normally, they are the middle step in an aquatic food chain that goes from algae to zooplankton to fish. "The lagoons contain some bottom-feeding fish, but they do not seem to be impacting the zooplankton population," said Kring. This lack of predation allows zooplankton to proliferate, and exist in higher than average concentrations.

This is an important finding because one of the biggest difficulties with using algae to make biofuels like biodiesel is getting the oil out of the algae. The zooplankton can help. "These zooplankton grow fast, they select algae from among all of the other particles present in the water, they break apart the algae in their digestive tracts and they preferentially accumulate the oil in their structures and eggs. Collecting zooplankton from water is much easier than collecting , due to their larger size," said Kring. "Therefore, it will be less energy intensive to remove larger zooplankton from the column, rather than microscopic ."

The results of this research were recently published in the journal Environmental Technology.

Explore further: Aquatic food web tied to land: Some fish are made out of maple leaves

Related Stories

Solutions for 'culture crashes' in algal production sought

April 20, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- Algae can seem quite stubborn and hardy when trying to rid them from your pool, but when it comes to mass producing algal feedstock to be used in the conversion to biofuel, more things can happen to destroy ...

Algae biofuels: the wave of the future

April 3, 2012

Researchers at Virginia Bioinformatics Institute at Virginia Tech have assembled the draft genome of a marine algae sequence to aid scientists across the US in a project that aims to discover the best algae species for producing ...

NASA showcases method to grow algae-based biofuels

April 18, 2012

NASA recently showcased the latest research and technology development a method to grow algae, clean wastewater, capture carbon dioxide and ultimately produce feedstock for refining biofuels without competing with agriculture ...

Biofuel from human urine

September 30, 2013

Micro-algae can grow on undiluted human urine. This offers opportunities for new water purification methods and perhaps even for converting urine into usable chemical substances and biofuels.

Recommended for you

Study suggests fish can experience 'emotional fever'

November 25, 2015

(Phys.org)—A small team of researchers from the U.K. and Spain has found via lab study that at least one type of fish is capable of experiencing 'emotional fever,' which suggests it may qualify as a sentient being. In their ...

New gene map reveals cancer's Achilles heel

November 25, 2015

Scientists have mapped out the genes that keep our cells alive, creating a long-awaited foothold for understanding how our genome works and which genes are crucial in disease like cancer.

Insect DNA extracted, sequenced from black widow spider web

November 25, 2015

Scientists extracted DNA from spider webs to identify the web's spider architect and the prey that crossed it, according to this proof-of-concept study published November 25, 2015 in the open-access journal PLOS ONE by Charles ...

How cells in the developing ear 'practice' hearing

November 25, 2015

Before the fluid of the middle ear drains and sound waves penetrate for the first time, the inner ear cells of newborn rodents practice for their big debut. Researchers at Johns Hopkins report they have figured out the molecular ...


Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.