Digestion of wastewater pond microalgae and potential inhibition by alum and ammoniacal-N

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Courtesy of IWA Publishing

Algae are produced in considerable quantities in oxidation ponds, and may negatively affect receiving waters when discharged at high concentration. Thus in some instances they require removal prior to effluent discharge, which may be enhanced using flocculants such as alum. Harvested algal biomass could be anaerobically digested to methane for use as a renewable energy source, however, alum, has been reported to inhibit anaerobic digestion. Psychrophilic (20°C) anaerobic digestion experiments showed a 13% reduction in methane production with 200 g m−3 alum in the flocculated algae, and a 40% reduction at an alum concentration of 1600 g m−3. Elevated ammoniacal-N concentrations (785 g NH4+−N m−3) also inhibited algal digestion at 20°C when using an inoculum of anaerobic bacteria from a mesophylic municipal wastewater sludge digester. However, anaerobic digestion using a bacterial inoculum from a psychrophilic piggery anaerobic pond (in which typical ammoniacal-N levels range between 200 and 2000 g NH4+−N m−3) were unaffected by elevated digester ammoniacal-N levels and methane production actually increased slightly at higher ammoniacal-N concentrations. Thus, selecting an anaerobic bacterial inoculum that is already adapted to high ammoniacal-N levels and the digestion temperature, such as that form an anaerobic pond treating piggery wastewater, may avoid ammonia inhibition of algal digestion.

Keywords: algae, alum, ammonia, digestion, inhibition, wastewater pond

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