Over the past two weeks, despite unyielding snow and winds, Team Algoland has been working at full speed ahead. Algoland lab technician Maurice Hirwa and LNU PhD student Lina Mattsson, both longtime MPEA veterans, have braved the snow in pursuit of their field research that studies the growth of freshwater algae to clean leachate water from Kalmar’s local landfill at Moskogen. Significantly, they have finished their sampling just in time to celebrate World Water Day next week, the 22nd of March.
The study is part of Algoland, a large-scale project that finds biological solutions for climate change problems at a local level. With Linnaeus University researchers at its core, Algoland involves partners from academia, industry and local government. It answers the question, “How can microalgae be used to clean the air and water?”
Lina Mattsson, whose PhD work is focused on the research at Moskogen, explains:
“One of the biggest problems in the Baltic Sea is eutrophication. This comes from a lot of different sources, but one of them is wastewater from industries. We are working together with a waste-management company called KSRR. The company’s landfill at Moskogen, outside of Kalmar, produces leachate water, which is liquid that passes through a landfill and contains high amounts of excess nutrients. Leachate water is a great problem for municipal solid waste plants.
Of course, they try to treat it but their system is not efficient enough so they have to either store the water or send it for expensive chemical treatment. We are hoping to find a more efficient biological solution, and right now we are trying out natural, freshwater microalgae. We grow the algae in raceway ponds where we try to take up the excess nutrients – it’s all about nutrient recovery.”
In addition to using leachate water in the raceway ponds, the team uses flue gas that comes from the Kalmar Energy’s heat-production plant. The CO2 from the flue gas is used by the algae to grow and therefore is another way for algae to clean manmade waste products from the environment!
On a typical sampling day, Team Algoland takes small samples from each raceway pond to be analyzed in the lab back in Kalmar. From there, they determine which ponds need to be harvested, depending on the level of nutrient uptake in the algae. With this information, part of the cleaned water is pumped out of the ponds, and new leachate water is added.
But is there a way to tell without lab work whether or not the algae are ready to harvest?
Says Lina: “Yes! Maurice and I always discuss if the algae are happy or not. We’ll say, ‘Oh, they’re not so happy today, but tomorrow they’ll feel better!’” She added, half-jokingly, “They’re our babies so we have to talk to them.” Once the algae are harvested, samples are taken to the lab for testing productivity, DNA and biomass products, to name a few.
Both researchers have been surprised by how efficient their microalgae are, taking up nutrients far faster than they had anticipated – an encouraging prospect for possible implementation of this work in the future. There is much more to be done – data to collect and analyze, but Team Algoland is well on their way to determining how they can use naturally occurring algae to clean leachate water, as well as to determine if the biomass can be used as valuable products. We will check in with our Moskogen team in a few months to hear more.
Algoland is a wide-reaching project that focuses on how algae can be used to solve climate change problems from a local level. Headed by Professor Catherine Legrand of Linnaeus University, it is a collaboration of researchers, industries and local government.
-Caroline A. Littlefield, interviewing Maurice Hirwa and Lina Mattsson, Linnaeus University