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Green recycling of resources in wastewater


The NIBIO Researchers Ikumi Umetani and Michal Sposób i NIBIO's microalgae laboratory.

Photo: John Olav Oldertrøen

A combination of microalgae and bacteria can function as natural purifying agents for greywater. The resources from the organic material could also be recycled to be used as food and animal feed products in the future.

Untreated greywater contains nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous. This must be removed before the wastewater is released into circulation again to avoid eutrophication and disruption to watercourse and marine ecosystems. One way to do this is to employ nature’s own mechanisms by letting microalgae do the work for us.

In the GRAALrecovery project, NIBIO and other institutions are studying the treatment of wastewater based on a patented system using algae granules. This results in more effective purification of greywater, costs are reduced, and resources are recycled.

“We initially identified the best algae for taking up nitrogen and phosphorous from greywater. We are now focusing on recycling bioresidue products, the other content of the biomass produced by microalgae and which are retrieved from the greywater,” explains Michal Sposób.

Sposób and colleague Ikumi Umetani have experimented with several different microalgae in various standardised wastewater samples and under different living and environmental conditions. They have also tested various concentrations and take ups of nutrients such as nitrogen and phosphorous, and looked at the composition of lipids, carbohydrates and proteins measured in the biomass.

Until now the researchers have discovered two species of microalgae that produce a lot of proteins in greywater. Over 70 per cent of the cells in these are proteins.

“Microalgae can produce chemical compounds that can be used in medicine, fertiliser and food. Nowadays using products created from greywater is prohibited, but in the future, algae could become a source of protein, carbohydrates, and lipids,” says Sposób.