Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)


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  • AquaVerde
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Re: Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Dear Natalie,

Thanks for your very inspiring work you sharing with us!

Just for a pounder for the collegues in cold climate areas:

Could also algae under our more cold climate conditions in large insulated tanks with permanent "cold" LED-lighting from all sides, do the job?

Maybe a good use of the more nutrient-rich drain water of biogas-digester + digester- and CHP waste heat and energy produce during 12 months over the year, will help?

The growing algae could be permanent feed to the upstream digester by pump.

For many large scale digester's with CHPs in could climates is the useful use of the "waste heat" a big problem and they dumping this heat.

Maybe a combination waste-water+algae+digester+chp requires less space, less harvest- & transport costs and less stress them difficult approvals for irrigation of energy crops with treated waste-water.

Best Regards,
Detlef SCHWAGER, AquaVerde Ltd. Zanzibar
"simple" Sanitation-Solutions by gravity
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  • ncookson
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  • President and Engineer with Quantitative BioSciences, Inc. in San Diego, CA
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Algae for the effective and economical treatment of waste (Quantitative BioSciences, Inc, USA)

Hi there,

Today it is my turn to introduce to you our grant from the BMGF that I have the pleasure of leading. We are a small start-up in San Diego. We are collaborating with the Van Ommering Dairy in Lakeside, CA. We will be using their farm as the demonstration site for our full-scale treatment system, where we will treat the waste from both their septic system and their dairy cows. We conduct the water testing and other laboratory experiments at our lab/office space at the above address.

Our project is called: Algae for the Effective and Economical Treatment of Waste

Subtitle: Developing a full-scale demonstration of a “waste farm” that will cultivate algae for the production of bioenergy and a valuable live feed crop for the local community using waste as the feedstock.

  • Name of lead organization: Quantitative BioSciences, Inc.
  • Primary contact at lead organization: Natalie Cookson
  • Grantee location: San Diego, California, USA
  • Developing country where the research is being or will be tested: Currently being developed in the USA, but targeting urban areas of India and Africa for Phase III depolyment.
Short description of the project:

The goal of our project is to develop a full-scale demonstration of a "waste farm," an efficient, easy-to-operate, and novel waste treatment system that will involve mass cultivating algae for the production of bioenergy and a valuable live feed crop for the local community using waste as the feedstock. We are using next-generation biotechnology to characterize and evolve native strains of algae for higher productivity in order to maximize the potential for energy and revenue generation.


The goal of our project is to develop a full-scale demonstration of a “waste farm,” which could ultimately be set up on the periphery of small urban areas in the developing world. Mobile vacuum trucks will collect human feces from latrine pits and septic tanks as well as cow dung from urban cattle sheds and transport it to the treatment facility for processing and ultimately for the generation of energy and revenue. Our technology will not rely on sewer systems, and it will use a sophisticated computational control system to enable remote monitoring of the treatment quality to minimize the need for on-site maintenance and service. For our Phase I work, we have developed an experimental scale set up of such a waste farm, and we have demonstrated the successful treatment of waste using comprehensive data. In addition, we have shown that the algae grown in our treatment system can be used as an aquatic feed.


Objective 1: Develop a full-scale waste treatment plant. Our focus for Phase II of our project will be on the design, engineering, and testing of a wastewater treatment system that could ultimately be replicated and implemented as waste farms in developing urban areas. We are collaborating with the Van Ommering Dairy in Lakeside, CA, and our process will involve passing a large volume of waste (150,000 liters per day) through a series of biological processes that we will construct on the dairy (Fig. 1, see attached below at the end of the post) to progressively treat waste and convert organic material and nutrients into energy and valuable biomass. The waste will begin in an anaerobic lagoon/digester that will promote sedimentation and anaerobic breakdown of waste. This large lagoon (22 million liters) will be covered to prevent the escape of methane, carbon dioxide, and odors. The waste will next pass to a set of high rate algae ponds (230,000 liters), which will support vigorous algae growth for the uptake of nutrients and enhanced disinfection of the water. Finally, wastewater will be transferred to a fairy shrimp pond (319,000 liters) for algae filtration and to a maturation pond (1.2 million liters) for final treatment that promotes removal of micro-organisms by solar radiation, sedimentation and protozoan grazing. Tilapia will be grown in the maturation pond, feeding on any remaining algae.

Objective 2: Algae identification and evolution. Our innovative approach to enhancing algae-based wastewater treatment will involve the novel application of two avenues of biotechnology (Fig. 2). First, we will use next-generation sequencing to characterize the native algae species that grow in our waste treatment ponds. Initial experiments have revealed hundreds of species of algae and bacteria in our system, and we will use this technology to fully characterize the ecology of the ponds in order to understand how it evolves over time and to determine which species are dominant. We will then use novel microfluidic technology pioneered by our group to rapidly evolve the species of interest for enhanced productivity. Once we have achieved the desired characteristics, we will reintroduce these enhanced native strains back into the pond system, and we will seed the ponds as necessary to maintain the strain of interest in the continuously growing algae culture.

Objective 3: Development of fairy shrimp as a feed. Prominent algae species determined by the sequencing efforts will be cultured in lab and fed to fairy shrimp. Fairy shrimp eggs are capable of drying out, becoming cysts that are capable of withstanding heat, cold, and prolonged desiccation, making them an excellent feed product as they can be shipped dry and then rehydrated into a live feed (Fig. 3). We will experiment with feeding quantities and culture conditions to develop a protocol to optimize the conversion of algae to fairy shrimp biomass. On the farm, we will construct smaller-scale experimental ponds where we can test the viability and proliferation of the fairy shrimp in a competitive outdoor environment and can develop protocols for the collection and desiccation of cysts for sale or use as a live feed for fish.
  • Start and end date: End date 30 April 2013, final report due 15 June 2013
  • Grant type: GCE R6
  • Funding for this research currently ongoing (yes/no): We just completed our Phase I work and have applied for Phase II funding. We are also funded by the USDA and the CEC for the development of our waste treatment technology.
  • Research or implementation partners: We are working with UCSD as well as with the Van Ommering Dairy farm in Lakeside, CA, where we are building a full-scale waste treatment system.

Links, further readings – results to date: Our Phase I report discusses our results to date (see below).

We also have a website: It is kind of a work in progress…we're in the middle of re-vamping it, but I guess it'll do for now.

Current state of affairs:

The goal of our GCE Phase I proposal was to develop an efficient, easy-to-operate, and novel waste treatment and bioenergy production system: mass cultivating a strain of algae using wastewater as the feedstock. We have successfully constructed a multi-pond system that processes 200 L/day of municipal and agricultural waste, produces energy in the form of biogas, and generates valuable algae biomass that we have tested as an effective feed for various fish species.

Biggest successes so far:

We have had a lot of success with the use of high rate algae ponds for enhancing waste treatment, and the details of these results as measured by quantifying critical water treatment parameters can be found in our Phase I report. We have also successfully used molecular biology techniques to genetically alter a laboratory strain of algae. Images and data taken using this strain to express a green fluorescent protein as a visible reporter can also be found in our Phase I report.

Main challenges/frustrations:

The synthetic biology aspect of our project has been a great challenge but has also led us to evolve our idea for utilizing the algae biomass in a way that will optimize its benefit for the communities that we are targeting with this technology. After conducting thorough research of the market for algae biomass, we have determined that the most efficient and economical use of the algae will be as a feed for fairy shrimp or a similar organism that can serve as a live feed or can be sold to boost the local economy. By using the algae directly as an aquatic feed, it does not need to be harvested, which is the most expensive and time-consuming aspect of using high-rate algae ponds for waste treatment. If we can eliminate this expensive and energy-intensive step while producing a valuable product, we will take a huge step toward developing a system that can be self-sufficient, low-maintenance, and profitable for the target communities.

Thanks so much, and please let me know if you have any other questions.

President of Quantitative BioSciences, Inc.
San Diego, CA
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