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Frequently Asked Questions


If you have any additional questions about this topic please email Scott Edmundson at scottje123@gmail.com

Q: What are algae?
A: Algae are a diverse group of organisms, which utilize sunlight to power biological processes. Algae encompass the multicellular seaweeds, such as kelp, as well as single celled phytoplankton. There are currently tens of thousands of recognized species of algae, and many more yet to de discovered. Algae are distinguished from plants primarily by the lack of differentiated leaves, roots, and stems.

Q: How can algae help manage solid waste?
A: Algae are primary producers that utilize sunlight and elemental minerals to create carbohydrates and oxygen. When solid waste is landfilled, rain and the liquids released from decomposition amass in what is known as landfill leachate. This liquid waste has many solubilized elements within it. Algae can utilize the dissolved elements to synthesize cell biomass. As algae grow, they also degrade organic pollutants within the landfill leachate, through direct metabolism and the cellular production of oxygen during photosynthesis.

Q: Can algae grow on landfill leachate?
A: Yes! Given the right conditions, algae can grow on landfill leachate. Algae can even grow on undiluted landfill leachate. Unmodified landfill leachate is toxic to algae, however through laboratory research we have discovered a control mechanism for allowing algae to survive high concentrations of landfill leachate.

Q: What about the color of landfill leachate, can algae still get light?
A: Despite the tendency for landfill leachate to be tannic in color, a well-mixed algal culture gets enough light to grow rapidly. Surface area to volume ratio is a key dimension in designing any algal growth system, and is especially critical in landfill leachate remediation to ensure that algae cells receive enough light to satisfy metabolic needs.

Q: How stable will an algal remediation system be?
A: Research is currently underway on maximizing algal growth within landfill leachate. An automated system is being designed, which strives for maximum remediation with minimum operator maintenance.

Q: Why research methods of cultivating algae on landfill leachate?
A: Algae represent a novel path for sustainable leachate remediation. Exploring this opportunity to exploit one of nature’s most powerful biological processes (photosynthesis) may help reduce the environmental and economic burden of municipal solid waste and the ensuing landfill leachate.

Q: How will algal bioremediation compare to conventional methods of remediation?
A: Hypothetically, algae will provide treatment equivalent to conventional methods, with additional benefits to improve economics and sustainability. Algae bioremediation may also provide a co-product biofuel to reduce the economic cost of bioremediation.