Can microalgae transform wastewater?

By Country News

Research under way at Murdoch University is investigating the potential for algae to be used to clean up abattoir wastewater.

Australia is among the global leaders in the export of red meat and livestock, contributing more than $17 billion to the Australian economy.

The global demand for meat has constantly been increasing, encouraging the industry to develop more sustainable food systems while meeting social responsibilities.

Algal biotechnologist Associate Professor Navid Moheimani and systems engineering expert Professor Parisa A. Bahri, from Murdoch University, have begun an ambitious three-year project with an abattoir in Western Australia, to clean the wastewater and convert into useable products.

The team is examining the potential for microalgae to transform abattoir and other relevant meat industry wastewater into valuable products for the meat producers.

‘‘Red meat processing facilities generate large volumes of wastewater and solid waste rich in nutrients,’’ Assoc Prof Moheimani said.

‘‘In previous studies we established a few species of algae that can grow in untreated piggery waste and we are expanding this idea to see whether it can work for the cattle industry.

‘‘As well as removing nutrients from the wastewater, microalgae can help reduce carbon, nitrogen and phosphorous levels.’’

In the first stage of the project, currently under way, the team is searching for microalgal species that would potentially be suitable to treat the abattoir wastewater.

Prof Bahri said the team aimed to narrow investigations down to a few species that will not only be easy to cultivate and harvest from the wastewater, but also have the high potential for producing valuable end-products.

‘‘Once we have identified our selected species we will focus on establishing the best conditions to grow them,’’ he said.

‘‘After that we can focus more on ways to remove algae from water to test the suitability of purified water for reuse in the abattoir.

‘‘Additionally, through modelling and techno-economic assessment, the most economically viable waste-to-profit algal process will be selected and designed.’’