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The unseen problems

Montreal may be one of Canada’s greatest cities to live in; however, when it comes to irrigation and water treatment, it is by far one of the worst. In fact, the city was graded an F- in the national “report card” issued by the Sierra Club in 2004 which evaluates the cities treatment process. Now the first question that comes to mind is “How on earth could an advanced city such as Montreal get a rating as low as an F-?” The answer to that question lies in the fact Montreal’s wastewater treatment plant, although impressive in terms of its scope and capacity, only provides primary treatment of its sewage. Consequently, due to the lack of secondary and tertiary treatment, the effluent from the plant remain full of pharmaceuticals, heavy metals and other contaminants which end up downstream damaging the river’s ecosystem. In order, to solve this major issue, the city must evaluate a variety of options before taking a course of action. Of these options, one presents itself with much potential, the production microalgae in wastewater for the absorption of contaminants and other high value chemicals.


A method like no other?

There are many properties of microalgae that have captured the interest of modern day scientists. However, the most attractive characteristics of these plants are that they can grow in fresh water as well as saline water with minimal consequences, can be produced in wastewater with filtering capabilities and are biodegradable, thus harmless to the surrounding ecosystems when spilled. Even though, the estimated cost of algae per unit mass is much higher than most advanced biofuels crops, it is claimed to yield between 10 to 100 times more fuel per unit area than any other crop. So far, there has only been two popular methods of producing algae (algae raceway ponds and photobioreactors ) of which only one has been demonstrated to be commercially viable. In my opinion, the most efficient version of photobioreactors is the DIRECT TO ETHANOL® technology form Algenol. This is due to the proprietary flexible plastic film photobioreactor (PBR) that facilitates algae creation and collection. Subsequently, Algenol is capable of producing ethanol directly from the algae and the expended algae for biomass conversion to biodiesel, gasoline and jet fuel. This is the only sustainable fuel production process with a conversion rate higher than 85% of its CO2 feedstock into biofuels. Nevertheless, to achieve such a project, one needs support from investors and possibly even from government.


The second purpose

Here is where microalgae’s wonderful dual-purpose properties come into play. Indeed, according to a research paper by Anil Patel, Suzelle Barrington and Mark Lefsrud from McGill’s Department of Bioresource engineering called Microalgae for phosphorus removal and biomass production: a six species screen for dual-purpose organisms, the potential for algae-fuel increases when a second function is added, such as wastewater treatment. The screening consisted of six species of microalgae, three of which were marine algae and the others were freshwater algae. The goal of the research was to determine the amount of phosphorus and nitrate that could be absorbed by the algae and which of the types do it best. However, only two freshwater species could be identified as dual-purpose candidates: the Monoraphidium minutum and the Tetraselmis suecica, both have an average phosphorus absorption of 80%. Thus, using high-density wastewater cultures and lipid profiling, it would be worth studying these species to determine which species would be more suitable for the removal of nutrients and the production of biomass.

2 for 1

In order to implement this dual-purpose strategy, one could use some form of photobioreactor resembling the one Algenol uses and nourish the selected algae with partly treated wastewater. Indeed, a functioning design with a similar idea would surely attract the interest of investors and the government simply due to the fact that it is cleaning the waters and air while producing biofuels. On the other hand, high value chemicals, like phosphorus and nitrate can be sold or converted into fertilizers. Thus, allowing one’s company to be competitive on many markets due to the variety of products they have to offer. Finally, such a project shall hopefully be implemented in Montreal sometime soon because its benefits would increase Montreal’s economic status and hopefully get better results for its next evaluation.


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