NREL phosphorus

A Revolving Algal Biofilm system by Gross-Wen Technologies at the Terrence J. O’Brien Water Reclamation Plant in Skokie, IL. Photos courtesy of Gross-Wen Technologies.

Phosphorus in wastewater is a major contributor to harmful algal blooms in water bodies around the globe, with the potential to harm wildlife, livestock, and even humans. Wastewater treatment plants often rely on chemical- and energy-intensive techniques to remove phosphorus before it can travel downstream.

In research supported by the U.S. Department of Energy Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO), a team of scientists from the National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL), Gross-Wen Technologies, and the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago examined the unique properties of phosphorus uptake in the algal strains living in the Revolving Algal Biofilm (RAB) systems.  

The RAB system by Gross-Wen Technologies is an emerging technology that leverages the natural ability of algae to harness solar energy to efficiently accumulate and remove phosphorus from water. The grown algal biomass can then be harvested from the belt and dried for use as agricultural fertilizer or as feedstock for the manufacture of biofuels and bioproducts.

In the new study published in the Frontiers in Microbiology journal, the researchers discovered that specific algal species outperform the broader population of algae in the system. These findings may offer insight to improve RAB performance while enhancing revenue streams for crop fertilizers or bioenergy feedstocks.

Learn more about this BETO-funded research and its potential implications for recovering harmful or valuable metals from wastewater.