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Ecological interactions among nitrate-, perchlorate-, and sulfate-reducing bacteria in hydrogen-fed biofilm reactors

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Water contamination with nitrate (NO3−) (from fertilizers) and perchlorate (ClO4−) (from rocket fuel and explosives) is a widespread environmental problem. I employed the Membrane Biofilm Reactor (MBfR), a novel bioremediation technology, to treat NO3− and ClO4− in the presence of

Water contamination with nitrate (NO3−) (from fertilizers) and perchlorate (ClO4−) (from rocket fuel and explosives) is a widespread environmental problem. I employed the Membrane Biofilm Reactor (MBfR), a novel bioremediation technology, to treat NO3− and ClO4− in the presence of naturally occurring sulfate (SO42−). In the MBfR, bacteria reduce oxidized pollutants that act as electron acceptors, and they grow as a biofilm on the outer surface of gas-transfer membranes that deliver the electron donor (hydrogen gas, (H2). The overarching objective of my research was to achieve a comprehensive understanding of ecological interactions among key microbial members in the MBfR when treating polluted water with NO3− and ClO4− in the presence of SO42−. First, I characterized competition and co-existence between denitrifying bacteria (DB) and sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) when the loading of either the electron donor or electron acceptor was varied. Then, I assessed the microbial community structure of biofilms mostly populated by DB and SRB, linking structure with function based on the electron-donor bioavailability and electron-acceptor loading. Next, I introduced ClO4− as a second oxidized contaminant and discovered that SRB harm the performance of perchlorate-reducing bacteria (PRB) when the aim is complete ClO4− destruction from a highly contaminated groundwater. SRB competed too successfully for H2 and space in the biofilm, forcing the PRB to unfavorable zones in the biofilm. To better control SRB, I tested a two-stage MBfR for total ClO4− removal from a groundwater highly contaminated with ClO4−. I document successful remediation of ClO4− after controlling SO4 2− reduction by restricting electron-donor availability and increasing the acceptor loading to the second stage reactor. Finally, I evaluated the performance of a two-stage pilot MBfR treating water polluted with NO3− and ClO4−, and I provided a holistic understanding of the microbial community structure and diversity. In summary, the microbial community structure in the MBfR contributes to and can be used to explain/predict successful or failed water bioremediation. Based on this understanding, I developed means to manage the microbial community to achieve desired water-decontamination results. This research shows the benefits of looking "inside the box" for "improving the box".

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2014

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Intimate coupled photocatalysis and biodegradation on a novel TiO2-coated biofilm carrier

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Intimate coupling of Ti2 photocatalysis and biodegradation (ICPB) offers potential for degrading biorecalcitrant and toxic organic compounds much better than possible with conventional wastewater treatments. This study reports on using a novel sponge-type, Ti2-coated biofilm carrier that shows significant adherence

Intimate coupling of Ti2 photocatalysis and biodegradation (ICPB) offers potential for degrading biorecalcitrant and toxic organic compounds much better than possible with conventional wastewater treatments. This study reports on using a novel sponge-type, Ti2-coated biofilm carrier that shows significant adherence of Ti2 to its exterior and the ability to accumulate biomass in its interior (protected from UV light and free radicals). First, this carrier was tested for ICPB in a continuous-flow photocatalytic circulating-bed biofilm reactor (PCBBR) to mineralize biorecalcitrant organic: 2,4,5-trichlorophenol (TCP). Four mechanisms possibly acting of ICPB were tested separately: TCP adsorption, UV photolysis/photocatalysis, and biodegradation. The carrier exhibited strong TCP adsorption, while photolysis was negligible. Photocatalysis produced TCP-degradation products that could be mineralized and the strong adsorption of TCP to the carrier enhanced biodegradation by relieving toxicity. Validating the ICPB concept, biofilm was protected inside the carriers from UV light and free radicals. ICPB significantly lowered the diversity of the bacterial community, but five genera known to biodegrade chlorinated phenols were markedly enriched. Secondly, decolorization and mineralization of reactive dyes by ICPB were investigated on a refined Ti2-coated biofilm carrier in a PCBBR. Two typical reactive dyes: Reactive Black 5 (RB5) and Reactive Yellow 86 (RY86), showed similar first-order kinetics when being photocatalytically decolorized at low pH (~4-5), which was inhibited at neutral pH in the presence of phosphate or carbonate buffer, presumably due to electrostatic repulsion from negatively charged surface sites on Ti2, radical scavenging by phosphate or carbonate, or both. In the PCBBR, photocatalysis alone with Ti2-coated carriers could remove RB5 and COD by 97% and 47%, respectively. Addition of biofilm inside macroporous carriers maintained a similar RB5 removal efficiency, but COD removal increased to 65%, which is evidence of ICPB despite the low pH. A proposed ICPB pathway for RB5 suggests that a major intermediate, a naphthol derivative, was responsible for most of the residual COD. Finally, three low-temperature sintering methods, called O, D and DN, were compared based on photocatalytic efficiency and Ti2 adherence. The DN method had the best Ti2-coating properties and was a successful carrier for ICPB of RB5 in a PCBBR.

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2011

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Downstream processing of Synechocystis for biofuel production

Description

Lipids and free fatty acids (FFA) from cyanobacterium Synechocystis can be used for biofuel (e.g. biodiesel or renewable diesel) production. In order to utilize and scale up this technique, downstream processes including culturing and harvest, cell disruption, and extraction were

Lipids and free fatty acids (FFA) from cyanobacterium Synechocystis can be used for biofuel (e.g. biodiesel or renewable diesel) production. In order to utilize and scale up this technique, downstream processes including culturing and harvest, cell disruption, and extraction were studied. Several solvents/solvent systems were screened for lipid extraction from Synechocystis. Chloroform + methanol-based Folch and Bligh & Dyer methods were proved to be "gold standard" for small-scale analysis due to their highest lipid recoveries that were confirmed by their penetration of the cell membranes, higher polarity, and stronger interaction with hydrogen bonds. Less toxic solvents, such as methanol and MTBE, or direct transesterification of biomass (without pre-extraction step) gave only slightly lower lipid-extraction yields and can be considered for large-scale application. Sustained exposure to high and low temperature extremes severely lowered the biomass and lipid productivity. Temperature stress also triggered changes of lipid quality such as the degree of unsaturation; thus, it affected the productivities and quality of Synechocystis-derived biofuel. Pulsed electric field (PEF) was evaluated for cell disruption prior to lipid extraction. A treatment intensity > 35 kWh/m3 caused significant damage to the plasma membrane, cell wall, and thylakoid membrane, and it even led to complete disruption of some cells into fragments. Treatment by PEF enhanced the potential for the low-toxicity solvent isopropanol to access lipid molecules during subsequent solvent extraction, leading to lower usage of isopropanol for the same extraction efficiency. Other cell-disruption methods also were tested. Distinct disruption effects to the cell envelope, plasma membrane, and thylakoid membranes were observed that were related to extraction efficiency. Microwave and ultrasound had significant enhancement of lipid extraction. Autoclaving, ultrasound, and French press caused significant release of lipid into the medium, which may increase solvent usage and make medium recycling difficult. Production of excreted FFA by mutant Synechocystis has the potential of reducing the complexity of downstream processing. Major problems, such as FFA precipitation and biodegradation by scavengers, account for FFA loss in operation. Even a low concentration of FFA scavengers could consume FFA at a high rate that outpaced FFA production rate. Potential strategies to overcome FFA loss include high pH, adsorptive resin, and sterilization techniques.

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2011

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Fate of engineered nanomaterials in wastewater treatment plants

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As the use of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in consumer products becomes more common, the amount of ENMs entering wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) increases. Investigating the fate of ENMs in WWTPs is critical for risk assessment and pollution control. The objectives

As the use of engineered nanomaterials (ENMs) in consumer products becomes more common, the amount of ENMs entering wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) increases. Investigating the fate of ENMs in WWTPs is critical for risk assessment and pollution control. The objectives of this dissertation were to (1) quantify and characterize titanium (Ti) in full-scale wastewater treatment plants, (2) quantify sorption of different ENMs to wastewater biomass in laboratory-scale batch reactors, (3) evaluate the use of a standard, soluble-pollutant sorption test method for quantifying ENM interaction with wastewater biomass, and (4) develop a mechanistic model of a biological wastewater treatment reactor to serve as the basis for modeling nanomaterial fate in WWTPs. Using titanium (Ti) as a model material for the fate of ENMs in WWTPs, Ti concentrations were measured in 10 municipal WWTPs. Ti concentrations in pant influent ranged from 181 to 3000 µg/L, and more than 96% of Ti was removed, with effluent Ti concentrations being less than 25 µg/L. Ti removed from wastewater accumulated in solids at concentrations ranging from 1 to 6 µg Ti/mg solids. Using transmission electron microscopy, spherical titanium oxide nanoparticles with diameters ranging from 4 to 30 nm were found in WWTP effluents, evidence that some nanoscale particles will pass through WWTPs and enter aquatic systems. Batch experiments were conducted to quantify sorption of different ENM types to activated sludge. Percentages of sorption to 400 mg TSS/L biomass ranged from about 10 to 90%, depending on the ENM material and functionalization. Natural organic matter, surfactants, and proteins had a stabilizing effect on most of the ENMs tested. The United States Environmental Protection Agency's standard sorption testing method (OPPTS 835.1110) used for soluble compounds was found to be inapplicable to ENMs, as freeze-dried activated sludge transforms ENMs into stable particles in suspension. In conjunction with experiments, we created a mechanistic model of the microbiological processes in membrane bioreactors to predict MBR, extended and modified this model to predict the fate of soluble micropollutants, and then discussed how the micropollutant fate model could be used to predict the fate of nanomaterials in wastewater treatment plants.

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2011

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Biofilm reduction of oxidized contaminants

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The overall goal of this dissertation is to advance understanding of biofilm reduction of oxidized contaminants in water and wastewater. Chapter 1 introduces the fundamentals of biological reduction of three oxidized contaminants (nitrate, perchlorate, and trichloriethene (TCE)) using two biofilm

The overall goal of this dissertation is to advance understanding of biofilm reduction of oxidized contaminants in water and wastewater. Chapter 1 introduces the fundamentals of biological reduction of three oxidized contaminants (nitrate, perchlorate, and trichloriethene (TCE)) using two biofilm processes (hydrogen-based membrane biofilm reactors (MBfR) and packed-bed heterotrophic reactors (PBHR)), and it identifies the research objectives. Chapters 2 through 6 focus on nitrate removal using the MBfR and PBHR, while chapters 7 through 10 investigate simultaneous reduction of nitrate and another oxidized compound (perchlorate, sulfate, or TCE) in the MBfR. Chapter 11 summarizes the major findings of this research. Chapters 2 and 3 demonstrate nitrate removal in a groundwater and identify the maximum nitrate loadings using a pilot-scale MBfR and a pilot-scale PBHR, respectively. Chapter 4 compares the MBfR and the PBHR for denitrification of the same nitrate-contaminated groundwater. The comparison includes the maximum nitrate loading, the effluent water quality of the denitrification reactors, and the impact of post-treatment on water quality. Chapter 5 theoretically and experimentally demonstrates that the nitrate biomass-carrier surface loading, rather than the traditionally used empty bed contact time or nitrate volumetric loading, is the primary design parameter for heterotrophic denitrification. Chapter 6 constructs a pH-control model to predict pH, alkalinity, and precipitation potential in heterotrophic or hydrogen-based autotrophic denitrification reactors. Chapter 7 develops and uses steady-state permeation tests and a mathematical model to determine the hydrogen-permeation coefficients of three fibers commonly used in the MBfR. The coefficients are then used as inputs for the three models in Chapters 8-10. Chapter 8 develops a multispecies biofilm model for simultaneous reduction of nitrate and perchlorate in the MBfR. The model quantitatively and systematically explains how operating conditions affect nitrate and perchlorate reduction and biomass distribution via four mechanisms. Chapter 9 modifies the nitrate and perchlorate model into a nitrate and sulfate model and uses it to identify operating conditions corresponding to onset of sulfate reduction. Chapter 10 modifies the nitrate and perchlorate model into a nitrate and TCE model and uses it to investigate how operating conditions affect TCE reduction and accumulation of TCE reduction intermediates.

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2012

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Water quality decay and pathogen survival in drinking water distribution systems

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The deterioration of drinking-water quality within distribution systems is a serious cause for concern. Extensive water-quality deterioration often results in violations against regulatory standards and has been linked to water-borne disease outbreaks. The causes for the deterioration of

The deterioration of drinking-water quality within distribution systems is a serious cause for concern. Extensive water-quality deterioration often results in violations against regulatory standards and has been linked to water-borne disease outbreaks. The causes for the deterioration of drinking water quality inside distribution systems are not yet fully understood. Mathematical models are often used to analyze how different biological, chemical, and physical phenomena interact and cause water quality deterioration inside distribution systems. In this dissertation research I developed a mathematical model, the Expanded Comprehensive Disinfection and Water Quality (CDWQ-E) model, to track water quality changes in chloraminated water. I then applied CDWQ-E to forecast water quality deterioration trends and the ability of Naegleria fowleri (N.fowleri), a protozoan pathogen, to thrive within drinking-water distribution systems. When used to assess the efficacy of substrate limitation versus disinfection in controlling bacterial growth, CDWQ-E demonstrated that bacterial growth is more effectively controlled by lowering substrate loading into distribution systems than by adding residual disinfectants. High substrate concentrations supported extensive bacterial growth even in the presence of high levels of chloramine. Model results also showed that chloramine decay and oxidation of organic matter increase the pool of available ammonia, and thus have potential to advance nitrification within distribution systems. Without exception, trends predicted by CDWQ-E matched trends observed from experimental studies. When CDWQ-E was used to evaluate the ability N. fowleri to survive in finished drinking water, the model predicted that N. fowleri can survive for extended periods of time in distribution systems. Model results also showed that N. fowleri growth depends on the availability of high bacterial densities in the 105 CFU/mL range. Since HPC levels this high are rarely reported in bulk water, it is clear that in distribution systems biofilms are the prime reservoirs N. fowleri because of their high bacterial densities. Controlled laboratory experiments also showed that drinking water can be a source of N. fowleri, and the main reservoir appeared to be biofilms dominated by bacteria. When introduced to pipe-loops N. fowleri successfully attached to biofilms and survived for 5 months.

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2010

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Linking structure and function to manage microbial communities carrying out chlorinated ethene reductive dechlorination

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Contamination by chlorinated ethenes is widespread in groundwater aquifers, sediment, and soils worldwide. The overarching objectives of my research were to understand how the bacterial genus Dehalococcoides function optimally to carry out reductive dechlorination of chlorinated ethenes in a mixed

Contamination by chlorinated ethenes is widespread in groundwater aquifers, sediment, and soils worldwide. The overarching objectives of my research were to understand how the bacterial genus Dehalococcoides function optimally to carry out reductive dechlorination of chlorinated ethenes in a mixed microbial community and then apply this knowledge to manage dechlorinating communities in the hydrogen-based membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR). The MBfR is used for the biological reduction of oxidized contaminants in water using hydrogen supplied as the electron donor by diffusion through gas-transfer fibers. First, I characterized a new anaerobic dechlorinating community developed in our laboratory, named DehaloR^2, in terms of chlorinated ethene turnover rates and assessed its microbial community composition. I then carried out an experiment to correlate performance and community structure for trichloroethene (TCE)-fed microbial consortia. Fill-and-draw reactors inoculated with DehaloR^2 demonstrated a direct correlation between microbial community function and structure as the TCE-pulsing rate was increased. An electron-balance analysis predicted the community structure based on measured concentrations of products and constant net yields for each microorganism. The predictions corresponded to trends in the community structure based on pyrosequencing and quantitative PCR up to the highest TCE pulsing rate, where deviations to the trend resulted from stress by the chlorinated ethenes. Next, I optimized a method for simultaneous detection of chlorinated ethenes and ethene at or below the Environmental Protection Agency maximum contaminant levels for groundwater using solid phase microextraction in a gas chromatograph with a flame ionization detector. This method is ideal for monitoring biological reductive dechlorination in groundwater, where ethene is the ultimate end product. The major advantage of this method is that it uses a small sample volume of 1 mL, making it ideally suited for bench-scale feasibility studies, such as the MBfR. Last, I developed a reliable start-up and operation strategy for TCE reduction in the MBfR. Successful operation relied on controlling the pH-increase effects of methanogenesis and homoacetogenesis, along with creating hydrogen limitation during start-up to allow dechlorinators to compete against other microorgansims. Methanogens were additionally minimized during continuous flow operation by a limitation in bicarbonate resulting from strong homoacetogenic activity.

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2012

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The Siemens hybrid process: mathematical modeling and analysis of an innovative and sustainable pilot wastewater treatment process

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To address sustainability issues in wastewater treatment (WWT), Siemens Water Technologies (SWT) has designed a "hybrid" process that couples common activated sludge (AS) and anaerobic digestion (AD) technologies with the novel concepts of AD sludge recycle and biosorption. At least

To address sustainability issues in wastewater treatment (WWT), Siemens Water Technologies (SWT) has designed a "hybrid" process that couples common activated sludge (AS) and anaerobic digestion (AD) technologies with the novel concepts of AD sludge recycle and biosorption. At least 85% of the hybrid's AD sludge is recycled to the AS process, providing additional sorbent for influent particulate chemical oxygen demand (PCOD) biosorption in contact tanks. Biosorbed PCOD is transported to the AD, where it is converted to methane. The aim of this study is to provide mass balance and microbial community analysis (MCA) of SWT's two hybrid and one conventional pilot plant trains and mathematical modeling of the hybrid process including a novel model of biosorption. A detailed mass balance was performed on each tank and the overall system. The mass balance data supports the hybrid process is more sustainable: It produces 1.5 to 5.5x more methane and 50 to 83% less sludge than the conventional train. The hybrid's superior performance is driven by 4 to 8 times longer solid retention times (SRTs) as compared to conventional trains. However, the conversion of influent COD to methane was low at 15 to 22%, and neither train exhibited significant nitrification or denitrification. Data were inconclusive as to the role of biosorption in the processes. MCA indicated the presence of Archaea and nitrifiers throughout both systems. However, it is inconclusive as to how active Archaea and nitrifiers are under anoxic, aerobic, and anaerobic conditions. Mathematical modeling confirms the hybrid process produces 4 to 20 times more methane and 20 to 83% less sludge than the conventional train under various operating conditions. Neither process removes more than 25% of the influent nitrogen or converts more that 13% to nitrogen gas due to biomass washout in the contact tank and short SRTs in the stabilization tank. In addition, a mathematical relationship was developed to describe PCOD biosorption through adsorption to biomass and floc entrapment. Ultimately, process performance is more heavily influenced by the higher AD SRTs attained when sludge is recycled through the system and less influenced by the inclusion of biosorption kinetics.

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2011

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The versatile roles of sulfate-reducing bacteria for uranium bioremediation

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Uranium (U) contamination has been attracting public concern, and many researchers are investigating principles and applications of U remediation. The overall goal of my research is to understand the versatile roles of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) in uranium bioremediation, including direct

Uranium (U) contamination has been attracting public concern, and many researchers are investigating principles and applications of U remediation. The overall goal of my research is to understand the versatile roles of sulfate-reducing bacteria (SRB) in uranium bioremediation, including direct involvement (reducing U) and indirect involvement (protecting U reoxidation). I pursue this goal by studying Desulfovibro vuglaris, a representative SRB. For direct involvement, I performed experiments on uranium bioreduction and uraninite (UO2) production in batch tests and in a H2-based membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR) inoculated with D. vuglaris. In summary, D. vuglaris was able to immobilize soluble U(VI) by enzymatically reducing it to insoluble U(IV), and the nanocrystallinte UO2 was associated with the biomass. In the MBfR system, although D. vuglaris failed to form a biofilm, other microbial groups capable of U(VI) reduction formed a biofilm, and up to 95% U removal was achieved during a long-term operation. For the indirect involvement, I studied the production and characterization of and biogenic iron sulfide (FeS) in batch tests. In summary, D. vuglaris produced nanocrystalline FeS, a potential redox buffer to protect UO2 from remobilization by O2. My results demonstrate that a variety of controllable environmental parameters, including pH, free sulfide, and types of Fe sources and electron donors, significantly determined the characteristics of both biogenic solids, and those characteristics should affect U-sequestrating performance by SRB. Overall, my results provide a baseline for exploiting effective and sustainable approaches to U bioremediation, including the application of the novel MBfR technology to U sequestration from groundwater and biogenic FeS for protecting remobilization of sequestrated U, as well as the microbe-relevant tools to optimize U sequestration applicable in reality.

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2014

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Recycling water and nutrients when producing the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803

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Large-scale cultivation of photosynthetic microorganisms for the production of biodiesel and other valuable commodities must be made more efficient. Recycling the water and nutrients acquired from biomass harvesting promotes a more sustainable and economically viable enterprise. This study

Large-scale cultivation of photosynthetic microorganisms for the production of biodiesel and other valuable commodities must be made more efficient. Recycling the water and nutrients acquired from biomass harvesting promotes a more sustainable and economically viable enterprise. This study reports on growing the cyanobacterium Synechocystis sp. PCC 6803 using permeate obtained from concentrating the biomass by cross-flow membrane filtration. I used a kinetic model based on the available light intensity (LI) to predict biomass productivity and evaluate overall performance.

During the initial phase of the study, I integrated a membrane filter with a bench-top photobioreactor (PBR) and created a continuously operating system. Recycling permeate reduced the amount of fresh medium delivered to the PBR by 45%. Biomass production rates as high as 400 mg-DW/L/d (9.2 g-DW/m2/d) were sustained under constant lighting over a 12-day period.

In the next phase, I operated the system as a sequencing batch reactor (SBR), which improved control over nutrient delivery and increased the concentration factor of filtered biomass (from 1.8 to 6.8). I developed unique system parameters to compute the amount of recycled permeate in the reactor and the actual hydraulic retention time during SBR operation. The amount of medium delivered to the system was reduced by up to 80%, and growth rates were consistent at variable amounts of repeatedly recycled permeate. The light-based model accurately predicted growth when biofilm was not present. Coupled with mass ratios for PCC 6803, these predictions facilitated efficient delivery of nitrogen and phosphorus. Daily biomass production rates and specific growth rates equal to 360 mg-DW/L/d (8.3 g/m2/d) and 1.0 d-1, respectively, were consistently achieved at a relatively low incident LI (180 µE/m2/s). Higher productivities (up to 550 mg-DW/L/d) occurred under increased LI (725 µE/m2/s), although the onset of biofilm impeded modeled performance.

Permeate did not cause any gradual growth inhibition. Repeated results showed cultures rapidly entered a stressed state, which was followed by widespread cell lysis. This phenomenon occurred independently of permeate recycling and was not caused by nutrient starvation. It may best be explained by negative allelopathic effects or viral infection as a result of mixed culture conditions.

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2015