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Wastewater treatment lagoons could be biofuel source, study finds

February 06, 2014
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According to a new study carried out by a researcher at Clarkson University in Potsdam, N.Y., wastewater treatment lagoons are a potential source of biofuel.

Wastewater treatment
lagoons can be found across New York and other states, making them an accessible local source of biofuel, said Stefanie Kring, an environmental science and engineering Ph.D. student, who led the research. Her doctoral thesis supervisor, Biology Professor Michael Twiss, explained that these lagoons are full of planktonic organisms of the same type that naturally occur in rivers and lakes, but their concentration is much higher in wastewater treatment lagoons. These organisms are a suitable source of biomass, according to the researchers.

The research, published in the journal Environmental Technology, found that despite the high level of nutrients in wastewater treatment lagoons, the level of algae was lower than could be expected. This was because of the prolific zooplankton present in the lagoons and the lack of fish feeding on them.

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When using algae to make biofuels like biodiesel it can be hard to extract the oil, but the zooplankton break apart the algae in their digestive tracts and accumulate the oil in their structures and eggs. Researchers believe that removing the zooplankton from the water would be easier and cheaper than trying to extract microscopic algae to make biofuel.

Currently, wastewater treatment lagoons are designed in a way that does not immediately allow biofuel production, but if they are modified it is possible to produce biofuel on a larger scale, possibly to an extent that would meet local needs for biodiesel, co-researcher Professor Susan Powers added.

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