Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Civil and Environmental Engineering

Major Professor

Sarina J. Ergas

Co-Major Professor

Babu Joseph


aquaculture wastewater, centrate, lipid accumulation, nutrient removal, STEM


Algae are a diverse group of simple organisms that lack roots, stems or leaves and are able to use sunlight, carbon dioxide, and nutrients to produce complex compounds, such as carbohydrates, proteins and lipids. These compounds, especially lipids, are highly sought-after by agricultural, nutraceutical and energy interests. Although there is great potential for algae derived biofuels, there are technical and economic challenges associated with their cultivation. Relevant to this dissertation, the environmental impacts associated with algae cultivation can be reduced by using municipal and agricultural wastewaters as a water and nutrient source. This research was divided into three sections to address current challenges in the algal industry and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education. The sections were: 1) examination of the growth of indigenous algae on wastewater (centrate) produced from dewatering anaerobically digested municipal sludge, 2) examination of the effect of non-axenic conditions on the growth of three different algal cultures using wastewater from a recirculating aquaculture system (RAS), and 3) using wastewater treatment and algae to increase scientific inquiry in authentic science research with high school students. In the first section, indigenous algae were cultivated on centrate under natural light conditions in a semi-continuous photobioreactor. A non- linear bio-optical model was developed considering Michaelis-Menten photosynthesis-irradiance response. The bio-optical model was applied to fit the cumulative biomass data and had an R-squared value of 0.96. The second section examined the growth and accumulation of storage product. Higher calorific values were observed for all algae cultures when grown under non-axenic conditions, most likely due to significantly higher lipid contents. Significantly higher algal lipid contents under non-axenic conditions may be attributed to the stress of the presence of RAS microorganisms. Finally, having a university-based algal project with involvement of University of South Florida (USF) researchers, teachers and high school (HS) students facilitated increased scientific understanding and skills among HS students. Outcomes included graduate students gaining greater in-depth practical understanding as these students had to learn skills, such as designing a photobioreactor and then immediately had to teach HS students how to construct photobioreactors, design and conduct experiments, and gather scientific data. HS students gained a greater understanding of biological and chemical processes, such as photosynthesis. In addition, they learned important skills, such as calculating means and standard deviations using Excel, orally communicating scientific concepts and preparation of a PowerPoint presentation.