Direct measurement and characterization of active photosynthesis zones inside wastewater remediating and biofuel producing microalgal biofilms

Hans C. Bernstein, Maureen Kesaano, Karen Moll, Terence Smith, Robin Gerlach, Ross P. Carlson, Charles D. Miller, Brent M. Peyton, Keith E. Cooksey, Robert D. Gardner, Ronald C. Sims

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

36 Scopus citations


Microalgal biofilm based technologies are of keen interest due to their high biomass concentrations and ability to utilize light and CO2. While photoautotrophic biofilms have long been used for wastewater remediation, biofuel production represents a relatively new and under-represented focus area. However, the direct measurement and characterization of fundamental parameters required for industrial control are challenging due to biofilm heterogeneity. This study evaluated oxygenic photosynthesis and respiration on two distinct microalgal biofilms cultured using a novel rotating algal biofilm reactor operated at field- and laboratory-scales. Clear differences in oxygenic photosynthesis and respiration were observed based on different culturing conditions, microalgal composition, light intensity and nitrogen availability. The cultures were also evaluated as potential biofuel synthesis strategies. Nitrogen depletion was not found to have the same effect on lipid accumulation compared to traditional planktonic microalgal studies. Physiological characterizations of these microalgal biofilms identify fundamental parameters needed to understand and control process optimization.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)206-215
Number of pages10
JournalBioresource Technology
StatePublished - Mar 2014

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The authors acknowledge funding support from multiple sources: (1) the National Science Foundation Integrative Graduate and Education Training ( NSF-IGERT ) ( DGE 0654336 ) and NSF-Sustainable Energy Pathways program ( CHE-1230632 ); (2) Church & Dwight Co., Inc.; (3) Department of Energy, Genomic Science Program-Foundational Scientific Focus (Pacific Northwest National Laboratory subcontract 112443 to MSU), as well as, the Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy (EERE) Biomass Program (DE-EE0005993); (4) The Laboratory Directed Research and Development Program at Pacific Northwest National Laboratories partially supporting H.C.B through the Linus Pauling Distinguished Postdoctoral Fellowship program; (5) the Utah Science Technology and Research (USTAR) program (Scott Hinton, PI); (6) the Logan City Environmental Department Award (Control Number 080441 ); and (7) the Utah Water Research Laboratory (Award WA-1089) for project support to Utah State University. This work was also partially made possible by microscope facilities at the Montana State University Center for Biofilm Engineering, which was supported by funding obtained from the NSF-MRI Program and the M.J. Murdock Charitable Trust. The Environmental and Biofilm Mass Spectrometry Facility (EBMSF) at MSU funded through DURIP Contract Number: W911NF0510255 and the MSU Thermal Biology Institute from the NASA Exobiology Program Project NAG5-8807 is acknowledged. The microelectrode equipment was supported by the NIH COBRE Center for Analysis of Cellular Mechanisms and Systems Biology (NIH P20RR024237).


  • Biofilm
  • Biofuel
  • Microalgae
  • Photosynthesis
  • Wastewater remediation


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