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Biotechnol Adv. 2016 Sep-Oct;34(5):550-564. doi: 10.1016/j.biotechadv.2016.01.002. Epub 2016 Jan 12.

Phosphorus from wastewater to crops: An alternative path involving microalgae.

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Department of Bioengineering, Faculty of Biology, Moscow State University, Moscow, Russia; Timiryazev Institute of Plant Physiology, Russian Academy of Sciences, Moscow, Russia; Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Plant Sciences (IBG-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich, Wilhelm-Johnen-Straße, 52428 Jülich, Germany. Electronic address:
Wetsus, European Centre of Excellence for Sustainable Water Technology, Oostergoweg 9, 8911MA Leeuwarden, The Netherlands; Duplaco b.v., Hassinkweg 31, 7556BV Hengelo, The Netherlands.
Institute of Bio- and Geosciences, Plant Sciences (IBG-2), Forschungszentrum Jülich, Wilhelm-Johnen-Straße, 52428 Jülich, Germany.


Phosphorus (P) is a non-renewable resource, a major plant nutrient that is essential for modern agriculture. Currently, global food and feed production depends on P extracted from finite phosphate rock reserves mainly confined to a small number of countries. P limitation and its potential socio-economic impact may well exceed the potential effects of fossil fuel scarcity. The efficiency of P usage today barely reaches 20%, with the remaining 80% ending up in wastewater or in surface waters as runoff from fields. When recovered from wastewater, either chemically or biologically, P is often present in a form that does not meet specifications for agricultural use. As an alternative, the potential of microalgae to accumulate large quantities of P can be a way to direct this resource back to crop plants. Algae can acquire and store P through luxury uptake, and the P enriched algal biomass can be used as bio-fertilizer. Technology of large-scale algae cultivation has made tremendous progress in the last decades, stimulated by perspectives of obtaining third generation biofuels without requiring arable land or fresh water. These new cultivation technologies can be used for solar-driven recycling of P and other nutrients from wastewater into algae-based bio-fertilizers. In this paper, we review the specifics of P uptake from nutrient-rich waste streams, paying special attention to luxury uptake by microalgal cells and the potential application of P-enriched algal biomass to fertilize crop soils.


Bio-fertilizer; Luxury uptake; Microalgal biotechnology; Polyphosphate; Wastewater treatment

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