Biotechnology and Bioengineering vol:108 issue:10 pages:2320-2329
Although microalgae are considered as a promising feedstock for biofuels, the energy efficiency of the production process needs to be significantly improved. Due to their small size and low concentration in the culture medium, cost efficient harvesting of microalgae is a major challenge. In this study, the use of electro-coagulation-flocculation (ECF) as a method for harvesting a freshwater (Chlorella vulgaris) and a marine (Phaeodactylum tricornutum) microalgal species is evaluated. ECF was shown to be more efficient using an aluminum anode than using an iron anode. Furthermore it could be concluded that the efficiency of the ECF process can be substantially improved by reducing the initial pH and by increasing the turbulence in the microalgal suspension. Although higher current densities resulted in a more rapid flocculation of the microalgal suspension, power consumption, expressed per kg of microalgae harvested, and release of aluminum were lower when a lower current density was used. The aluminum content of the harvested microalgal biomass was less than 1 % while the aluminum concentration in the process water was below 2 mg l-1. Under optimal conditions, power consumption of the ECF process was around 2 kWh kg-1 of microalgal biomass harvested for Chlorella vulgaris and ca. 0.3 kWh kg-1 for Phaeodactylum tricornutum. Compared to centrifugation, ECF is thus more energy efficient. Because of the lower power consumption of ECF in seawater, ECF is a particularly attractive method for harvesting marine microalgae.