The effect of harvesting on biomass production and nutrient removal in phototrophic biofilm reactors for effluent polishing

N.C. Boelee, M. Janssen, H. Temmink, L. Taparaviciute, R. Khiewwijit, A. Janoska, C.J.N. Buisman, R.H. Wijffels

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An increasing number of wastewater treatment plants require post-treatment to remove residual nitrogen and phosphorus. This study investigated various harvesting regimes that would achieve consistent low effluent concentrations of nitrogen and phosphorus in a phototrophic biofilm reactor. Experiments were performed in a vertical biofilm reactor under continuous artificial lighting and employing artificial wastewater. Under similar conditions, experiments were performed in near-horizontal flow lanes with biofilms of variable thickness. It was possible to maintain low nitrogen and phosphorus concentrations in the effluent of the vertical biofilm reactor by regularly harvesting half of the biofilm. The average areal biomass production rate achieved a 7 g dry weight m-2 day-1 for all different harvesting frequencies tested (every 2, 4, or 7 days), corresponding to the different biofilm thicknesses. Apparently, the biomass productivity is similar for a wide range of biofilm thicknesses. The biofilm could not be maintained for more than 2 weeks as, after this period, it spontaneously detached from the carrier material. Contrary to the expectations, the biomass production doubled when the biofilm thickness was increased from 130 µm to 2 mm. This increased production was explained by the lower density and looser structure of the 2 mm biofilm. It was concluded that, concerning biomass production and labor requirement, the optimum harvesting frequency is once per week.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1439-1452
JournalJournal of Applied Phycology
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014



  • waste water treatment
  • biofilms
  • thickness
  • density
  • algae
  • biological water treatment plants
  • phototropism
  • nitrogen
  • phosphorus
  • removal
  • biobased economy
  • waste-water treatment
  • photosynthetic efficiency
  • chlorella-sorokiniana
  • microalgal biofilms
  • phosphorus removal
  • mass-transport
  • fresh-water
  • light
  • growth

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