PLoS One. 2023 Jan 4;18(1):e0279943. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0279943. eCollection 2023.
Microalgae accumulate lipids in response to nutrient deprivation, and these lipids are a biodiesel fuel stock. Algal cultivation with secondary wastewater effluent is one proposed platform for biofuel production, which provides nutrients to algae while further polishing wastewater effluent. Algal bioreactors were tested using a feast-famine feeding regiment in simulated secondary wastewater effluent to evaluate the effects on lipid content and algal community structure. Algal polycultures were inoculated into reactors fed with synthetic secondary wastewater effluent at pH 7.5 and 9 and operated under a feast-famine nutrient (N, P, and BOD) supply regime in sequencing batch reactors. Fatty acid methyl ester contents of the reactors were assessed, which showed a decrease in lipid content after the feast-famine cycling (from 12.2% initially to 5.2% after four cycles at pH 9). This decrease in lipid content was not correlated with an increase in carbohydrate storage within biomass, nor an increase in bacterial biomass abundance relative to algal biomass in the reactors. The eukaryotic microbial communities from reactors operated at pH 9 diverged from reactors operated at pH 7.5 during cycling, with the pH 9 reactors becoming dominated by a single Operational Taxonomic Unit aligning to the Scenedesmus genus. These results suggest that high pH and feast-famine nutrient cycling may select for a less diverse algal community with a lower lipid content within a secondary wastewater polishing scheme.