Microalgae Cultivation in Wastewater to Recycle Nutrients as Biofertilizer

  • Francisca Maria Santos
  • José Carlos Magalhães PiresEmail author
Part of the Environmental Chemistry for a Sustainable World book series (ECSW, volume 44)


Nitrogen and phosphorus are two macronutrients present in chemical fertilizers applied to agricultural practices. Nitrogen is usually produced from the Haber–Bosch synthesis process, which converts atmospheric nitrogen into ammonia using natural gas. Consequently, it generated substantial amounts of CO2, which is the main contributor to global warming. Phosphorus is obtained from nonrenewable phosphate-based minerals using chemical processes with sulfuric acid. This method produces hazardous substances, which have a risk to both human health and the environment. Besides the environmental impacts from the production processes, the nutrient uptake efficiency by the cultures may be very low. Nitrogen can be easily lost to the environment due to denitrification, volatilization, and/or leaching. Phosphate may be converted into insoluble compounds after chemical reaction with soil minerals, which decreases the availability of this nutrient. These losses have major impacts on the environment, polluting the soil, water, and air.

With the increasing tendency of the fertilizer demand for agricultural practices, it is imperative (i) to find sustainable alternatives to chemical fertilizers (minimizing their world market cote) and (ii) to develop technologies that enhance nutrient uptake efficiency, reducing simultaneously the environmental impacts. Nutrient recycling from wastewaters represents a sustainable solution. These effluents have been proposed as sources of nitrogen and phosphorus for the culture of microalgae, with the simultaneous benefit of nitrogen and phosphorus removal (avoiding the environmental negative impacts with their discharge). Then, microalgal biomass can have several applications, including the production of biofertilizers. This process will enable nutrient recycling, reducing the requirement of fertilizers produced in a non-environmentally friendly way. This chapter aims to present the advantages (and research needs) of using microalgal cultures for nutrient recovery from wastewaters.


Nutrient recycling Wastewater Microalgae Sustainability Process integration Nitrogen Phosphorus Biofertilizer Circular economy 



This work was financially supported by: (i) Project UID/EQU/00511/2019-Laboratory for Process Engineering, Environment, Biotechnology and Energy (LEPABE) funded by national funds through FCT/MCTES (PIDDAC); and (ii) Project POCI-01-0145-FEDER-031736-PIV4Algae (Process Intensification for microalgal production and Valorisation) funded by FEDER funds through COMPETE2020-Programa Operacional Competitividade e Internacionalização (POCI) and by national funds (PIDDAC) through FCT/MCTES. J.C.M. Pires acknowledges the FCT Investigator 2015 Programme (IF/01341/2015).


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© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  • Francisca Maria Santos
    • 1
  • José Carlos Magalhães Pires
    • 1
    Email author
  1. 1.LEPABE – Laboratory for Process Engineering, Environment, Biotechnology and Energy, Faculty of EngineeringUniversity of PortoPortoPortugal

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