Balancing the organic load and light supply in symbiotic microalgal–bacterial biofilm reactors treating synthetic municipal wastewater

N.C. Boelee, B.G. Temmink, M. Janssen, C.J.N. Buisman, R.H. Wijffels

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

58 Citations (Scopus)


Symbiotic microalgal–bacterial biofilms can be very attractive for municipal wastewater treatment. Microalgae remove nitrogen and phosphorus and simultaneously produce the oxygen that is required for the aerobic, heterotrophic degradation of organic pollutants. For the application of these biofilms in new wastewater treatment systems, the engineering aspects need to be investigated to obtain a balanced system where no additional oxygen is required. In this study symbiotic microalgal–bacterial biofilms were grown in flow cells with ammonium and phosphate, and with acetate as biodegradable organic pollutant at a hydraulic retention time of 4.5 h. The symbiotic biofilms removed acetate from 323 mg/L to 39 mg/L without an external oxygen or carbon dioxide supply at a removal rate of 43 g COD/m2/d. Ammonium and phosphate could not be completely removed, but removal rates of 3.2 g/m2/d and 0.41 g/m2/d were obtained, respectively. Further nitrogen removal may be obtained by nitrification and denitrification as the biofilm obtained a considerable heterotrophic denitrification capacity. The symbiotic relationship between microalgae and aerobic heterotrophs was proven by subsequently removing light and acetate. In both cases this resulted in the cessation of the symbiosis and in increasing effluent concentrations of both acetate and the nutrients ammonium and phosphate. Future research should investigate the dimensioning of an up-scaled symbiotic biofilm reactor, and the possibilities to obtain additional nitrogen and phosphorus removal under day–night cycles utilizing real wastewater.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-221
JournalEcological Engineering
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • waste water treatment
  • biofilms
  • symbiosis
  • algae
  • bacteria
  • heterotrophic microorganisms
  • photosynthesis
  • acetates
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • nitrification
  • denitrification
  • biological water treatment plants
  • biobased economy
  • activated-sludge
  • nutrient removal
  • growth
  • phytoplankton
  • fluorescence
  • enhancement

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