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posted on 10.06.2019 by Zhe Sun

Rapid growth of energy consumption and greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuels have promoted extensive research on biofuels. Algal biofuels have been considered as a promising and environmentally friendly renewable energy source. However, several limitations have inhibited the development of cost-effective biofuel production, which includes unstable cultivation caused by invading organisms and high cost of lipid extraction. This dissertation aims to investigate photochemical approaches to prevent culture collapse caused by invading organisms and biological approaches for the development of cost-effective lipid extraction methods.

As a chemical-free water treatment technology, ultraviolet (UV) irradiation has been widely applied to inactivate pathogens but has not been used in algal cultivation to control invading organisms. To evaluate the potential of using UV irradiation to control invading algal species and minimize virus predation, Tetraselmis sp. and Paramecium bursaria Chlorella virus 1 (PBCV-1) were examined as challenge organisms to evaluate effectiveness of UV disinfection. The concentration of viable (reproductively/infectively active) cells and viruses were quantified by a most probable number (MPN) assay and a plaque assay. A low-pressure collimated-beam reactor was used to investigate UV254 dose-response behavior of both challenge organisms. A medium-pressure collimated-beam reactor equipped with a series of narrow bandpass optical filters was used to investigate the action spectra of both challenge organisms. Both challenge organisms showed roughly five log10 units of inactivation for UV254 doses over 120 mJ/cm2. the most effective wavelengths for inactivation of Tetraselmis were from 254 nm to 280 nm, in which the inactivation was mainly attributed to UV-induced DNA damage. On the contrary, the most effective wavelength for inactivation of PBCV-1 was observed at 214 nm, where the loss of infectivity was mainly attributed to protein damage. These results provide important information for design of UV reactors to minimize the impact of invading organisms in algal cultivation systems.

Additionally, a virus-assisted cell disruption method was developed for cost-effective lipid extraction from algal biomass. Detailed mechanistic studies were conducted to evaluate infection behavior of Chlorovirus PBCV-1 on Chlorella sp., impact of infection on mechanical strength of algal cell wall, lipid yield, and lipid distribution. Viral disruption with multiplicity of infection (MOI) of 10-8 completely disrupted concentrated algal biomass in six days. Viral disruption significantly reduced the mechanical strength of algal cells for lipid extraction. Lipid yield with viral disruption increased more than three times compared with no disruption control and was similar to that of ultrasonic disruption. Moreover, lipid composition analysis showed that the quality of extracted lipids was not affected by viral infection. The results showed that viral infection is a cost-effective process for lipid extraction from algal cells as extensive energy input and chemicals required by existing disruption methods are no longer needed.

Overall, this dissertation provides innovative approaches for the development of cost-efficient algal biofuels. Application of UV disinfection and viral disruption significantly reduces chemical consumption and improves sustainability of algal biofuel production.


NSF International


United States Geological Survey

Purdue Research Foundation Fellowship


Degree Type

Doctor of Philosophy


Civil Engineering

Campus location

West Lafayette

Advisor/Supervisor/Committee Chair

Dr. Zhi Zhou

Additional Committee Member 2

Dr. Ernest R. Blatchley III

Additional Committee Member 3

Dr. Loring F. Nies

Additional Committee Member 4

Dr. Jiqin Ni



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