Rotating algal biofilm reactor and spool harvester for wastewater treatment with biofuels by-products

Biotechnol Bioeng. 2012 Jul;109(7):1674-84. doi: 10.1002/bit.24451. Epub 2012 Feb 13.


Maximizing algae production in a wastewater treatment process can aid in the reduction of soluble nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the wastewater. If harvested, the algae-based biomass offers the added benefit as feedstock for the production of biofuels and bioproducts. However, difficulties in harvesting, concentrating, and dewatering the algae-based biomass have limited the development of an economically feasible treatment and production process. When algae-based biomass is grown as a surface attached biofilm as opposed to a suspended culture, the biomass is naturally concentrated and more easily harvested. This can lead to less expensive removal of the biomass from wastewater, and less expensive downstream processing in the production of biofuels and bioproducts. In this study, a novel rotating algal biofilm reactor (RABR) was designed, built, and tested at bench (8 L), medium (535 L), and pilot (8,000 L) scales. The RABR was designed to operate in the photoautotrophic conditions of open tertiary wastewater treatment, producing mixed culture biofilms made up of algae and bacteria. Growth substrata were evaluated for attachment and biofilm formation, and an effective substratum was discovered. The RABR achieved effective nutrient reduction, with average removal rates of 2.1 and 14.1 g m(-2) day(-1) for total dissolved phosphorus and total dissolved nitrogen, respectively. Biomass production ranged from 5.5 g m(-2) day(-1) at bench scale to as high as 31 g m(-2) day(-1) at pilot scale. An efficient spool harvesting technique was also developed at bench and medium scales to obtain a concentrated product (12-16% solids) suitable for further processing in the production of biofuels and bioproducts.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bacteria / growth & development
  • Biofilms / growth & development
  • Bioreactors / microbiology*
  • Chlorella / growth & development
  • Equipment Design
  • Rotation*
  • Scenedesmus / growth & development
  • Waste Disposal, Fluid / instrumentation*