Scenario Analysis of Nutrient Removal from Municipal Wastewater by Microalgal Biofilms

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Microalgae can be used for the treatment of municipal wastewater. The application of microalgal biofilms in wastewater treatment systems seems attractive, being able to remove nitrogen, phosphorus and COD from wastewater at a short hydraulic retention time. This study therefore investigates the area requirement, achieved effluent concentrations and biomass production of a hypothetical large-scale microalgal biofilm system treating municipal wastewater. Three scenarios were defined: using microalgal biofilms: (1) as a post-treatment; (2) as a second stage of wastewater treatment, after a first stage in which COD is removed by activated sludge; and (3) in a symbiotic microalgal/heterotrophic system. The analysis showed that in the Netherlands, the area requirements for these three scenarios range from 0.32 to 2.1 m2 per person equivalent. Moreover, it was found that it was not possible to simultaneously remove all nitrogen and phosphorus from the wastewater, because of the nitrogen:phosphorus ratio in the wastewater. Phosphorus was limiting in the post-treatment scenario, while nitrogen was limiting in the two other scenarios. Furthermore, a substantial amount of microalgal biomass was produced, ranging from 13 to 59 g per person equivalent per day. These findings show that microalgal biofilm systems hold large potential as seasonal wastewater treatment systems and that it is worthwhile to investigate these systems further
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)460-473
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2012


  • waste water treatment
  • biofilms
  • algae
  • biological water treatment plants
  • comparative research
  • sequences
  • feasibility studies
  • heterotrophic microorganisms
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • removal
  • biomass production
  • biobased economy
  • marine-phytoplankton
  • chemical-composition
  • chlorella-vulgaris
  • nitrate uptake
  • algal biofilm
  • growth
  • photobioreactor
  • photosynthesis

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