Municipal wastewater treatment is a major energy-consuming process that emits substantial greenhouse and is the largest source of nutrient-based pollution into Canada’s clean natural waters. The purpose of this research is to demonstrate how CO2 and waste organic material can be used to grow algae-biofilms and use anaerobic digesters to convert the algae biomass into biomethane. The system can also capture nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus) from wastewater, which could then be reused as valuable renewable fertilizers. While this process could transform wastewater treatment plants into bioenergy production facilities, algae cells have a high protein content, which limits the efficiency of methane production in anaerobic digesters.
The project utilizes genomic sequencing to determine the cellular mechanisms behind the adaptation of specialized microbial communities and identifies the genomes of active microbial populations responsible for methane production from algae. Through this research, genetic biomarkers will be identified and validated for their ability to monitor the capacity of anaerobic digesters to convert algae into biomethane. This research will also provide valuable new data on the energy-production potential of the algae-to-methane and characterize the performance of an emerging biotechnology platform that reduces the environmental impacts of wastewater, and produces a carbon neutral biofuel that can help to mitigate climate change.