Microbial Mediated Nutrient Capture and Recycling from Urban and Agricultural Runoff

October 2017

Eutrophication is primarily driven by excessive nutrients [i.e., carbon dioxide (CO2), nitrogen (N) and phosphorus (P)] and the impacts include increased production of algae and other aquatic plants, shifts in habitat characteristics, production of toxins, and deoxygenation of water leading to fish death. Fortunately, advancement in renewable energy systems and agricultural practices can contribute to offsetting some of these deleterious environmental consequences through strategic nutrient capture, conversion, and recycling N and P back as animal feed or through biofertilizer which is applied back to production soils, this ultimately improves soil resources and agricultural sustainability. Essentially, algae will grow on N and P from non-point agricultural sources, this project is a way to grow advantageous algae upstream of watersheds to mitigate the N and P before it causes eutrophication. 

Robert Gardner, Assistant Professor of Renewable Energy at the U of MN West Central Research and Outreach Center was recently awarded funds through the MnDRIVE Environment 2017 Seed Grant for the development of an integrated project focused on efficient and strategic microbial capture, conversion, and recycling of anthropogenic CO2, N and P from urban and agricultural runoff that has the potential to be translational across multiple scales and territories. The goal of this project is to demonstrate sustainable recycling of N and P using useful algal strains isolated from local environments. These algal strains use sunlight, as a renewable energy source, CO2, and in some cases N2 from the atmosphere. Local strains will be tested for nutritional characteristics, lack of toxin production, and their influence on soil physiological and fertility. 

Funding for this project includes the hiring of a post-doctoral candidate, which will be located at the WCROC.

MnDRIVE - Minnesota’s Discovery, Research, and InnoVation Economy – is a landmark partnership between the University and the state of Minnesota that aligns areas of University research strength with the state’s key and emerging industries to address grand challenges. In 2013, the Minnesota Legislature authorized an $18 million recurring annual investment in four research areas identified by University faculty and deans and corporate partners as the most promising areas for partnership: Robotics, Global Food, Environment and Brain Conditions