May 24, 2022
There’s a class of green algae with the potential to revolutionize sustainability efforts. These diatoms are abundant in nature and their structures could be used for environmentally friendly, high-value products to clean our air and purify our water. Furthermore, their residual biomass could become sources of green energy, reducing future carbon emissions.
But before we can reap the benefits of this type of circular sustainability, researchers need to know how to grow diatoms in large, controlled populations.
That’s where the University of Missouri College of Engineering’s Zhiqiang Hu comes in. Hu, an American Association for the Advancement of Science Fellow and William Andrew Davidson Professor in civil and environmental engineering, he has a series of recent papers exploring the world-changing power of diatoms.
In his latest article, published in the journal Water Research, Hu and his recent PhD graduate, Yan Li, demonstrated how to produce customized diatom microstructures by varying a bioreactor operating parameter known as solids retention time, or SRT. SRT relates to the growth rate of microorganisms and impacts how substances are degraded in water.
By changing solids retention time, his team was able to alter characteristics of diatoms such as their shape and micro/nano pore size in order to optimize their properties, control their growth and mass produce them.
“Diatoms live naturally in the environment, but there’s no systematic way from an engineering approach to harvest them for large-scale controlled cultivation,” Hu said. “For the first time, we tried to show how using standard engineering operational practices — important parameters such as SRT — can make attainable structures that can be used for industrial and consumer products in the future.”