MSE Research Project Database

Nitrogen removal from wastewater treatment using macroalgae (Masters by research)

Project Leader: Greg Martin
Collaborators: Bill Pemberton (Melbourne Water)
Sponsors: Melbourne Water
Primary Contact: Greg Martin (
Keywords: air pollution and emissions abatement; biotechnology; large-scale systems; process modelling; wastewater treatment
Disciplines: Chemical & Biomolecular Engineering

Conventional biological processes for removing nitrogen from wastewater are energy intensive and result in significant greenhouse gas emissions. The use of macroalgae to uptake nitrogen from wastewater has the potential to reduce greenhouse gas emissions while producing useful biomass.

A macroalgal nitrogen removal process must be low-cost and simple to operate, but also robust and reliable. Although the final operation must be simple, there is much complexity that needs to be understood to design an effective process. Macroalgae growth and nitrogen utilisation are dependent on water composition (eg: organic carbon, ammonia, nitrate concentrations), local climate (daily and seasonal variations in temperature and sunlight), and species. Knowledge of these relationships is required to specify design parameters such as total pond area, pond configuration, solids and hydraulic residence times and harvesting locations and frequencies.

This Masters project will develop mathematical models to describe organic carbon and nitrogen utilisation rates of macroalgae as a function of key process variables. Controlled experiments will be performed at laboratory scale to understand the response of selected macroalgae species to fluctuations in water composition and environmental conditions and to determine model parameters. Mixotrophic metabolism, bacterial-macroalgae interactions, and biomass harvesting will also be considered. The model will be validated with data obtained using Melbourne Water’s pilot plant facility and used to explore process designs for a large-scale facility.

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