Award Date


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Civil and Environmental Engineering

First Committee Member

Nader Ghafoori

Second Committee Member

Henry J. Sun

Third Committee Member

Mohamed S. Kaseko

Fourth Committee Member

Spencer M. Steinberg

Fifth Committee Member

Daniel W. Gerrity

Number of Pages



Microalgae capable of growing in waste are adequate to be mass-cultivated for biodiesel, avoiding fertilizers and clean water, two obstacles to sustainability of the feedstock production. This study replaces fertilizers and clean water with waste products. The investigated wastes include (1) the liquid fraction of sewage after solids and particles are removed, known as centrate, and (2) algal biomass residue, i.e. the algae remaining at the end of the lipids extraction process at biofuel plants. These wastes contain sufficient amount of nitrogen and phosphorus required for algal growth. This study proposes a system in which centrate would be used as an initial source of water and nutrients for microalgal growth. The generated biomass waste can be continuously recycled, serving as a fertilizer. If so desired, the centrate can be reverted back into the system from time to time as a nutrition supplement and as a make-up water source, particularly in open ponds that face evaporation. Of the six studied algae, i.e. Chlorella sorokiniana, Encyonema caespitosum, Nitzschia thermalis, Scenedesmus sp., Synechocystis sp., and Limnothrix sp., mostly isolated from the habitats influenced by municipal wastewater in and around the Las Vegas Valley, two green algae were eligible. In the laboratory, the green algae C. sorokiniana and Scenedesmus sp. grew in the media composed of centrate or algal residue faster than in the mineral medium BG11, optimized for algal growth. The enhanced productivity is mainly attributed to the photosynthesis known for mixotrophic process and the presence of organic carbon in the waste which serves as an extra source of energy. Tolerance for hard water and strong light and, in the case of C. sorokiniana, an unusually high optimum temperature between 32 and 35°C are also attributing factors to the enhanced productivity of algae. These studied species are particularly suited for cultivation in their native southwestern United States, particularly Southern Nevada, where warm climate, non-arable land, and wastewater are available.

In addition, this study examines the variations in lipid content of algae, which affects the overall oil productivity at biofuel plants. The results demonstrated that lipid content is a dynamic property, negatively correlated to growth rate. Under varied environmental conditions, where growth rate can vary, lipid content also varies, but in an opposite direction. Therefore, the conditions that support a high rate of growth may not necessarily cause lipid content to increase. As a result, the tradeoff between growth rate and lipid content becomes critical at biofuel plants where the overall oil productivity must be optimum. If the efficiency of a biodiesel production process is 100%, the total productivity is equivalent to the amount of lipids produced by each cell multiplied by the total number of cells in the culture. Consequently, the oil productivity would be directly influenced by the outcome of the interactions between lipid content and growth rate. This research presents a universal pattern that elaborates the relationship between lipid content and growth rate of algae under varied environmental conditions.


Algal biofuel; Algal biomass residue; Algal compost; Biomass energy; Energy crops; Green algae; Mixotrophic; Municipal wastewater; Native algae; Nevada; Sewage


Chemical Engineering | Environmental Engineering | Oil, Gas, and Energy