Growth of microalgae using nitrate-rich brine wash from the water industry
Safe and accepted limits for nitrates in drinking water are exceeded in around one-third of the groundwater bodies in Europe. Whilst anion exchange (AEX) is an effective technology to strip nitrates, the regeneration of AEX resins using saturated sodium chloride (brine) results in a significant quantity of nitrate-rich saline waste, which is currently disposed of at a substantial cost to the water industry. The aim of this research was to evaluate the viability of using AEX brine wash as a nutrient source to support microalgal growth. Experiments were carried out at laboratory and pilot scales to test which algal species were able to grow on brine wash, to determine the optimal nitrate concentration within modified growth media, and to identify whether the origin of the brine wash affected the nitrate uptake potential. In small scale laboratory experiments, five marine algal species were able to grow in modified f/2 growth media containing nitrate sourced from the brine wash. Further experiments showed that three species could grow on the modified media at nitrate concentrations from 5 to 274 mg L−1. P. tricornutum could remediate up to 6.5 mg nitrate in 50 mL cultures in laboratory scale experiments, up to 570 mg at 10 L scale and 1700 mg at 100 L scale. We found that the origin of the brine wash did not significantly affect the growth of the cultures or the amount of nitrate removal from the modified media. The algal biomass could be used effectively in biogas production in small-scale trials, although with <10% the yield from P. tricornutum biomass from standard f/2 medium. Our results suggest that it may be possible to derive value from brine wash as a sustainable source of nitrate for the growth of microalgae in bulk after optimisation.
Authors: Ridley, Christian J.A., Parker, Brenda M., Norman, Louisa, Schlarb-Ridley, Beatrix, Dennis, Ross, Jamieson, Alexandra E., Clark, Daniel, Skill, Stephen C., Smith, Alison G., Davey, Matthew P.