Engineering the sequestration of carbon dioxide using microalgae
Powell, Erin E
With greenhouse gas emissions (of which CO2 is the major component) being a major environmental concern, mitigation of those emissions is becoming increasingly imperative. The ability to use a fast growing, photosynthetic organism like microalgae that can survive primarily on nutrients such as sunlight and air (with increased CO2 levels) makes it a desirable agent for CO2 sequestration. The primary goal of this project is the engineering of the sequestration of CO2 using the cultivation of the microalgae species Chlorella vulgaris. Secondary goals of the project are the exploration and development of valuable by-products of the cultivation and the determination of whether utilizing microalgae to capture CO2 could be integrated economically into an industrial facility. The batch growth kinetics of the photosynthetic algal species C. vulgaris were investigated using a well-mixed stirred bioreactor. The growth rate was found to increase as the dissolved CO2 increased to 150 mg/L (10% CO2 by volume in the gas), but fell dramatically at higher concentrations. Increasing the radiant flux also increased growth rate. With a radiant flux of 32.3 mW falling directly on the 500 mL culture media, the growth rate reached up to 3.6 mg of cells/L-h. Both pH variation (5.5 - 7.0) and mass transfer rate of CO2 (KLa between 6 h-1 and 17 h-1) had little effect on growth rate. The operation of continuously stirred tank bioreactors (CSTBs) at minimum cost is a major concern for operators. In this work, a CSTB design strategy is presented where impeller stirring speed and aeration rate are optimized to meet the oxygen demand of growing cells, simultaneously minimizing the capital and operating cost. The effect of microbial species, ions in the culture medium, impeller style, as well as changing CSTB size and biomass input density on the optimum operating conditions, is examined. A study of the effects of various parameters on the CSTB design is shown. Using the kinetic data collected in the batch growth study, a novel external loop airlift photobioreactor (ELAPB) was designed and tested. A model was developed for C. vulgaris growth in the ELAPB that incorporated growth behaviour, light attenuation, mass transfer, and fluid dynamics. The model predicts biomass accumulation, light penetration, and transient CO2 concentrations, and compares predictions to experimental data for radiant fluxes of 0.075 – 1.15 W/m2 and 0 – 20% CO2 enrichment of feed air, with a 10% average error. The effect of radiant flux and CO2 concentration is presented with discussion of radial and vertical profiles along the column. For a fed-batch culture at a biomass density of 170 mg/L, the penetration of the radiant flux was found to decrease by 50% within the first 1 cm, and 75% at 2 cm. Theoretical optimum growth conditions are determined to be 0.30 W/m2 and 6% CO2 enrichment of inlet feed air. The algal culture was observed to be a workable electron acceptor in a cathodic half cell. A net potential difference of 70 mV was achieved between the growing C. vulgaris culture acting as a cathode and a 0.02 M potassium ferrocyanide anodic half cell. Surge current and power levels of 1.0 µA/mg of cell dry weight and 2.7 mW/m2 of cathode surface area were measured between these two half cells. The recently developed photosynthetic cathode was also coupled to a fermentative anode to produce a completely microbial fuel cell. Loading effects and the effect of changing culture conditions on fuel cell operation are reported. The maximum power output measured was 0.95 mW/ m2 at 90 V and 5000 ohms. A significant increase in this output is achieved with the addition of supplemental glucose to the anodic half cell and the enrichment of the feed air bubbled into the cathodic half cell with 10% CO2. Two economic feasibility studies were performed on the integration of ELAPBs into an industrial facility. These integration studies operated the ELAPBs continuously as biocathodes in coupled microbial fuel cells (MFCs) that capture CO2 from an existing 130 million L/yr bioethanol plant, while generating electrical power and yielding oil for biodiesel to provide operational revenue to offset costs. The anodes for the coupled MFCs are the existing yeast batch fermentors, and the CO2 to be sequestered comes from the existing bioethanol production. Two different design schemes were evaluated, in both cases the maximum profit was achieved with the maximum number of tall columns operated in parallel. The first design evaluated a batch bioethanol facility with off-site oil processing, and the economic feasibility is demonstrated by the positive Net Present Worth achieved over the 20 year life of the plant, at a 10% rate of return on investment. The second design, for a continuous bioethanol operation, processes both oil and algae biomass on-site, but the economics of this second process are only positive (Internal Rate of Return 9.93%.) if the government provides financial assistance in the form of generous carbon credits (a speculative $100 per tonne of CO2 not yet attained) and a 25% capital equipment grant.
DegreeDoctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)
CommitteeNiu, C; Nemati, M; Tabil, L; Thibault, J; Pugsley, T
Copyright DateApril 2010
external loop airlift bioreactor
microbial fuel cell