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    'Staff publications' contains references to publications authored by Wageningen University staff from 1976 onward.

    Publications authored by the staff of the Research Institutes are available from 1995 onwards.

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Record number 512464
Title From harmful to useful algae
Author(s) Blaas, Harry
Source Wageningen University. Promotor(en): Carolien Kroeze. - Wageningen : Wageningen University - ISBN 9789463430357 - 117
Department(s) Environmental Systems Analysis
Earth System Science
Publication type Dissertation, internally prepared
Publication year 2017
Keyword(s) algae - algae culture - adverse effects - nitrogen - phosphorus - rivers - eutrophication - waste water treatment - europe - algen - algenteelt - nadelige gevolgen - stikstof - fosfor - rivieren - eutrofiëring - afvalwaterbehandeling - europa
Categories Algae / Aquaculture / Water Management (General)

Eutrophication of coastal waters is a worldwide phenomenon. This study focuses on eutrophication in the coastal waters of Europe. Eutrophication is mainly a result of the increased transport of nutrients from watersheds by rivers to the coastal waters. Nutrient losses from watersheds are generally from agriculture, sewage, atmospheric deposition and from natural sources. In case of an overload of nutrients in the coastal waters, algal blooms may develop which increase the risk of hypoxia, fish mortality, and loss of biodiversity.

Algae can also be useful. They are increasingly considered an interesting product. For instance, micro-algae can be grow on land to produce proteins, lipids and fatty acids. Some studies indicate that micro-algae can be an important feedstock in the future for, for instance, the production of biodiesel. Moreover, macro-algae can be produced in seawater in sea farms. Macro-algae can be edible, or be used as a feedstock. By yielding macro-algae, nutrients are removed from the water, reducing coastal eutrophication.

The objective of this study is to analyse past and future trends in nutrient export by rivers to European seas with a focus on the role of algae. Three types of algae will be distinguished: (1) harmful algal blooms in coastal seas, (2) cultivation of micro-algae on land for the production of proteins, lipids and fatty acids, and (3) cultivation of multi cellular algae in seaweed farms for human consumption or other products.

To meet the objective the following research questions are addressed:

RQ1 To what extent do N and P loads exceed levels that minimize the risk of harmful algal blooms, and what are the relative shares of sources of N and P in rivers of the European Union?

RQ2 What are the potential consequences of large-scale land-based production of biodiesel from cultivated micro-algae in Europe for coastal eutrophication?

RQ3 Would it possible to cultivate and process micro-algae in a factory, and what is the environmental performance?

RQ4 To what extent can seaweed farming in combination with nutrient management in agriculture and waste water treatment reduce the potential for coastal eutrophication?

These questions are answered through model analyses. The Global NEWS (Nutrient Export from WaterSheds) model simulates river export of nutrients as function of human activities on land. It includes more than 6000 rivers worldwide. It can be used to quantify nutrient flows from land to sea for the years 1970, 2000, 2030 and 2050. For future years four scenarios have been implemented. One of these scenarios is named Global Orchestration and mostly used as a reference in this thesis. This scenario assumes a globalised world, with a reactive approach towards environmental problems. The model was released in 2010, has been validated for the years 1970 and 2000. The nutrients considered in the model are nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P). In this thesis Global NEWS is used to calculate transport of nutrients to the coastal waters of Europe. The model uses ICEP (Indicator for Coastal Eutrophication Potential) values at the river mouths as an indicator for potentially harmful effects of nutrient enrichment. These ICEP values reflect the ratio of nitrogen and phosphorus to silica in coastal seas. A positive ICEP value indicates that nitrogen or phosphorus levels are too high, favouring conditions for potentially harmful algae to bloom.

In chapter 2 Global NEWS is used to calculate the transport of nutrients and ICEP values for 48 European rivers for the years 2000 and 2050. The model calculates a positive ICEP for 38 rivers in the year 2000, and for 34 rivers in the year 2050. This indicates that current policies are not so effective in reducing the river transport of nutrients. For polluted rivers the anthropogenic sources of the nutrients are investigated. For most rivers the dominant polluting sources are agriculture or sewage. The results indicate that a basin-specific policy is needed to reduce the risks of coastal eutrophication.

In chapter 3 the focus is on useful algae: micro-algae cultivation on land for, for instance, biodiesel production. The consequences of large-scale production of biodiesel on nutrient export by rivers to the European coastal waters are investigated. A scenario is developed assuming that a production of 0.4 billion m3 diesel from cultivated micro-algae. The cultivation is assumed to be in the open air, for instance in ponds or in closed tube systems. Such production levels would need a land surface area as large as Portugal. The Global NEWS model is used to calculate the amount of waste water from micro-algae production that will be transported to the coastal waters in this scenario. The results indicate that large-scale cultivation of micro-algae on land can become a source of nutrient pollution in rivers. In the scenario with large-scale micro-algae cultivation the future transport of nitrogen and phosphorus is considerably higher than in the reference scenario. To ensure sustainable production of biodiesel from micro-algae it is important to develop cultivation systems with low nutrient losses to the environment.

Chapter 4 presents a design of a factory for the cultivation and processing of micro-algae in an environmentally sound way. The factory does not use fossil fuels and applies maximum recycling of water and nutrients. In this factory it is possible to produce lipids, carbohydrates, proteins and minerals. The factory can be built on any piece of land, so there is no need to use arable land. The factory is independent of weather and climate. Energy can be delivered by wind mills. In this chapter an example of producing diesel in the factory is shown. In the 12 stories factory with a cultivation area of 1 hectare, 810 ton micro-algae can be cultivated per year. This is enough for the production of 386 ton diesel per year.

Chapter 5 focuses on mitigation of eutrophication in European coastal waters. A scenario is presented assuming different types of measures. The scenario first assumes that nutrient use efficiencies in agriculture are higher than today, and that waste water treatment in sewage systems is improved. In addition, it assumes that all excess N and P in coastal waters is harvested in seaweed farms producing edible macro-algae. In our scenario for 2050 there is seaweed farming in the coastal waters of 34 rivers mouths in Europe .NEWS The areas needed to ensure that ICEP values remain below 0 (low potential for coastal eutrophication) range between 0 and 952 km2 per river mouth.

This thesis shows that algae can be both harmful and useful. River export of nutrients can lead to coastal eutrophication increasing the risks of harmful algal blooms. On the other hand, micro-algae can be produced without environmental harm on land, and macro-algae can be useful in reducing pollution levels in coastal seas. This thesis could serve as a basis for environmental policies to stimulate the production of these useful algae. The methods to mitigate algal blooms and to use algae in a sustainable way in this thesis are also useful for other parts of the world.

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