A Life Cycle Assessment Based Evaluation of a Coupled Wastewater Treatment and Biofuel Production Paradigm


A laboratory experiment was performed to determine the feasibility of coupling a conventional wastewater treatment system with an algal photobioreactor (PBR) for the removal of nutrients from wastewater and production of renewable resources. An activated sludge batch reactor was set up in series with an algal PBR to feed synthetic wastewater to Chlorella vulgaris. The nutrient concentration in the water as well as lipid content, carbohydrate content, and growth rate of the algal biomass were tested over 10 cycles to determine the capabilities of the coupled system. The study revealed complete nutrient removal in some cycles, with the average final nutrient content of 2 mg-P/L and 3 mg-N/L in effluent of the PBR. The algae biomass contained 24% ± 3% lipids and 26% ± 7% carbohydrates by dry weight. A life cycle assessment revealed the highest energy demand occurred during harvesting of the algal mixture through centrifugation or filtration, but the highest global warming and eutrophication impacts were due to CO2 use and PBR construction material production. It is feasible for the system to treat wastewater while generating renewable resources, but the system must be optimized to reduce life cycle environmental impacts and result in a net energy gain before large-scale implementation is possible.

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M. Rothermel, A. Landis, W. Barr, K. Soratana, K. Reddington, M. Weschler, G. Witter and W. Harper, "A Life Cycle Assessment Based Evaluation of a Coupled Wastewater Treatment and Biofuel Production Paradigm," Journal of Environmental Protection, Vol. 4 No. 9, 2013, pp. 1018-1033. doi: 10.4236/jep.2013.49118.

Conflicts of Interest

The authors declare no conflicts of interest.


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