Microalgal bioremediation of emerging contaminants - Opportunities and challenges

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Journal Article
Water Research, 2019, 164
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© 2019 Emerging contaminants (ECs) are primarily synthetic organic chemicals that have a focus of increasing attention due to either increased awareness of their potential risks to humans and aquatic biota, or only recently been detected in the aquatic environment or drinking water supplies, through improved analytical techniques. Many ECs have no regulatory standards due to the lack of information on the effects of chronic exposure. Pharmaceuticals, personal care products, pesticides and flame retardants are some of the most frequently detected ECs in aquatic environments, with over 200 individual compounds identified, to date. Current wastewater treatment is ineffective at removing ECs and there is a vital need for the development of efficient, cost-effective EC treatment systems that can be applied to a range of scales and wastewater types. Microalgae have demonstrated potential for detoxifying organic and inorganic pollutants, with a number of large-scale wastewater treatment microalgal technologies already developed. There are three main pathways that microalgae can bioremediate ECs; bioadsorption, bio-uptake and biodegradation. Microalgal bioadsorption occurs when ECs are either adsorbed to cell wall components, or onto organic substances excreted by the cells, while bio-uptake involves the active transport of the contaminant into the cell, where it binds to intracellular proteins and other compounds. Microalgal biodegradation of ECs involves the transformation of complex compounds into simpler breakdown molecules through catalytic metabolic degradation. Biodegradation provides one of the most promising technologies for the remediation of contaminants of concern as it can transform the contaminant to less toxic compounds rather than act as a biofilter. Further research is needed to exploit microalgal species for EC bioremediation properties, such as increased bioadsorption, enhanced biodegrading enzymes and optimised growth conditions. When coupled with nutrient removal, microalgal treatment of EC can be a cost-effective viable option for the reduction of contaminant pollution in waterways.
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