Science students look at nature to tackle water pollution

Left to Right: Professor Rocky de Nys and Bruno Pais from Pacific Biotechnologies and Monash Science students Daniel Malkinson and Rodrigo Garcia-Mulder
Left to Right: Professor Rocky de Nys and Bruno Pais from Pacific Biotechnologies and Monash Science students Daniel Malkinson and Rodrigo Garcia-Mulder.

Water pollution issues are becoming increasingly common globally as water-intensive industries are growing and more people walk this earth.

Contaminated wastewater discharge contributes to toxic chemicals, harmful heavy metals and excess nutrients entering our freshwater and marine ecosystems.

Monash University science students Rodrigo Garcia-Mulder and Daniel Malkinson are working to harness the power of nature to combat water pollution and create a more sustainable wastewater management industry.

They have partnered with Pacific Biotechnologies to help translate over a decade of algae bioremediation and cultivation research into commercial opportunities.

Bioremediation technology uses algae to remove nutrients and contaminants from wastewater, while growing an algal biomass suitable for a range of industries including agriculture and energy production.

“There is a genuine opportunity for freshwater macroalgae bioremediation to be scaled across Australia and the world,” Rodrigo said.

“The majority of waste streams produced by industry are freshwater, and there are currently few solutions which add value to these waste streams while solving the inherent contamination problem.

“In both the present and future, it will be imperative to safeguard the precious freshwater we do have.”

With the Victorian Government’s new Environment Protection Regulations set to commence on 1 July 2020, waste producers will be looking for ways to implement reasonably practicable means to minimise the risks associated with the management of waste.

Rodrigo has developed a bioremediation opportunity assessment tool which highlights overarching factors to easily assess the feasibility of a bioremediation opportunity, such as a municipal or aquaculture wastewater source.

His research also mapped the geographic growth potential of Oedogonium intermedium, the freshwater algae species used by Pacific Biotechnologies.

He found that solar radiation and temperature affected algae growth and identified areas such as Sri Lanka, Central India and the Northern half of Australia as suitable locations for O. intermedium to reach the year-round growth required for optimal system performance.

Daniel evaluated the potential applications of O. intermedium across a range of industries to determine the most feasible biomass applications.

O. intermedium showed great potential as a feed supplement for aquaculture and livestock because of its highly nutritious properties and when converted to biochar, proved to be an effective carbon storage strategy and a promising soil ameliorant for both horticulture and agriculture.

“Combining this research for Pacific Biotechnologies sets a framework which can comprehensively provide impactful steps for the future implementation of bioremediation facilities,” Daniel said.

“The ability for this Australian technology to solve an ever-pressing issue of high nutrient loads in our waterways is an exciting opportunity that can be adopted by many businesses, nationally and internationally.”

Rodrigo and Daniel are currently gaining customer insights across Australia and will undergo in-depth research to comprehensively understand these markets and suggest implementation strategies for Pacific Biotechnologies.

Rodrigo and Daniel are completing their project as part of their honour’s year of a Monash Science Advanced Global Challenges degree.

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