Fungal-assisted algal flocculation: Application in wastewater treatment and biofuel production

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Abstract

© 2015 Muradov et al.; licensee BioMed Central. Background: The microalgal-based industries are facing a number of important challenges that in turn affect their economic viability. Arguably the most important of these are associated with the high costs of harvesting and dewatering of the microalgal cells, the costs and sustainability of nutrient supplies and costly methods for large scale oil extraction. Existing harvesting technologies, which can account for up to 50% of the total cost, are not economically feasible because of either requiring too much energy or the addition of chemicals. Fungal-assisted flocculation is currently receiving increased attention because of its high harvesting efficiency. Moreover, some of fungal and microalgal strains are well known for their ability to treat wastewater, generating biomass which represents a renewable and sustainable feedstock for bioenergy production. Results: We screened 33 fungal strains, isolated from compost, straws and soil for their lipid content and flocculation efficiencies against representatives of microalgae commercially used for biodiesel production, namely the heterotrophic freshwater microalgae Chlorella protothecoides and the marine microalgae Tetraselmis suecica. Lipid levels and composition were analyzed in fungal-algal pellets grown on media containing alternative carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus sources from wheat straw and swine wastewater, respectively. The biomass of fungal-algal pellets grown on swine wastewater was used as feedstock for the production of value-added chemicals, biogas, bio-solids and liquid petrochemicals through pyrolysis. Co-cultivation of microalgae and filamentous fungus increased total biomass production, lipid yield and wastewater bioremediation efficiency. Conclusion: Fungal-assisted microalgal flocculation shows significant potential for solving the major challenges facing the commercialization of microalgal biotechnology, namely (i) the efficient and cost-effective harvesting of freshwater and seawater algal strains; (ii) enhancement of total oil production and optimization of its composition; (iii) nutrient supply through recovering of the primary nutrients, nitrogen and phosphates and microelements from wastewater. The biomass generated was thermochemically converted into biogas, bio-solids and a range of liquid petrochemicals including straight-chain C12 to C21 alkanes which can be directly used as a glycerine-free component of biodiesel. Pyrolysis represents an efficient alternative strategy for biofuel production from species with tough cell walls such as fungi and fungal-algal pellets.

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Muradov, N., Taha, M., Miranda, A. F., Wrede, D., Kadali, K., Gujar, A., … Mouradov, A. (2015). Fungal-assisted algal flocculation: Application in wastewater treatment and biofuel production. Biotechnology for Biofuels, 8(1). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13068-015-0210-6

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