Water is invaluable for life on Earth; however, as a resource it is under threat due to an increasing population and resultant growth in agriculture and industry, leading to excessive nutrient/contaminant enrichment of water bodies. Conventional wastewater treatment (WWT) technologies involve biological, physical and chemical methods that are energy intensive, necessitate the use of chemicals, are inefficient, or produce secondary waste streams that require additional treatment. Alternative treatment technologies are required, with water and wastewater highlighted as priority sectors in the Paris Agreement, Horizon 2020, and the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
Algae are capable of living in a vast array of different environments and typically have higher rates of growth and a greater capacity for utilizing solar energy, in comparison to terrestrial “higher plant” counterparts. Furthermore, algae are capable of sequestering CO2 and nutrients and this has stimulated interest in WWT applications. In general, algae are chemically complex and can synthesize a range of natural products, such as lipids, proteins, pigments and carotenoids that can be used in various markets.
The Northwest of Scotland has a variety of industries that produce nutrient enriched waste streams including aquaculture, brewing and whisky distillation, and anaerobic digestion (AD) plants. Effluents and by-products, from industries such as these, may be used as a resource to be recovered, re-used and recycled. This would improve water quality and produce algal biomass for potentially remunerative purposes, such as bioenergy, fertilizers, or high-value products. Algae has clear potential to enhance the circular economy in Scotland via bioremediation and maximum utilization of the biomass produced by employing a biorefinery approach.
The overarching objective of this proposal is to investigate the use of algae for bioremediation purposes; concomitantly improving water quality through re-use and recycling, while producing algal biomass that is potentially commercially valuable. Algal biomass will be valorized by utilizing a variety of disruption techniques, thereby optimizing a biorefinery approach to enhance the value of biomass derived from waste streams. The composition of the biomass, and hence products of interest, will vary depending upon cultivation conditions and effluent characteristics.
• Initially a list of candidate species can be identified from a literature review that may be suitable for WWT and/or the production of compounds of interest. Identified cultures will be provided for the studentship from the Culture Collection of Algae and Protozoa (CCAP). Algal samples may also be isolated from areas in close proximity to target effluents. Species will be identified via their morphology using microscopy and molecular techniques, such as 18S ribosomal RNA.
• High-throughput screening employing a plate-reader can be used to identify key strains that exhibit good growth and robustness to different abiotic stressors, typically found in target effluents. Species that synthesize high-value or interesting compounds will also be selected. The fragility of selected strains against cell disruption will also be tested as part of strain screening to find the most suitable candidate for a biorefinery approach.
• Development and optimization of robust methods for cultivation, extraction, and biochemical analysis (colourimetric assays, GC, and HPLC). The supervisory team at SAMS has a vast experience with analytical techniques and cultivation across a diverse range of wild-type and cultivated species, via recent large-scale European funded projects (BioMara and ABACUS).
• Establishment of a tank/pilot-scale cultivation system for the concomitant treatment of effluents and recovery of water and biomass. Xanthella has a long experience on designing and manufacturing lab scale to industrial scale Photobioreactors.
Determination of improvement in water quality (spectrophotometric and nutrient autoanalysis) and implementation of an algal biorefinery to get the best value from the biomass produced. This biorefinery approach will include techniques for cell disruption (e.g. freezing/thawing, bead-milling, and sonication) and molecules purification (e.g. membrane filtration, chromatography), compatible with industrial production
The Hydro Nation Scholars Programme is an open competition for PhD Scholars to undertake approved projects, hosted within Scottish Universities and Research Institutes.
Full funding is available from the Scottish Government (to host institutions via the Scottish Funding Council). The funding available will be in line with the UKRI doctoral stipend levels and indicative fees.
Applicants should have a first-class honours degree in a relevant subject or a 2.1 honours degree plus Masters (or equivalent). Shortlisted candidates will be interviewed in February 2019. A more detailed plan of the studentship is available to candidates upon application.
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