Bioremediation of Heavy Metal by Algae: Current and Future Perspective
Instead of using mainly bacteria, it is also possible to use mainly algae to clean wastewater because many of the pollutant sources in wastewater are also food sources for algae. Nitrates and phosphates are common components of plant fertilizers for plants. Like plants, algae need large quantities of nitrates and phosphates to support their fast cell cycles. Certain heavy metals are also important for the normal functioning of algae. These include iron (for photosynthesis), and chromium (for metabolism). Because marine environments are normally scarce in these metals, some marine algae especially have developed efficient mechanisms to gather these heavy metals from the environment and take them up. These natural processes can also be used to remove certain heavy metals from the environment. The use of algae has several advantages over normal bacteria-based bioremediation processes. One major advantage of the removal of pollutants is that this is a process that under light conditions does not need oxygen. Instead, as pollutants are taken up and digested, oxygen is added while carbon dioxide is removed. Hence, phytoremediation could potentially be coupled with carbon sequestration. Additionally, because phytoremediation does not rely on fouling processes, odors are much less a problem. Microalgae, in particular, have been recognized as suitable vectors for detoxification and have emerged as a potential low-cost alternative to physicochemical treatments. Uptake of metals by living microalgae occurs in two steps: one takes place rapidly and is essentially independent of cell metabolism – “adsorption” onto the cell surface. The other one is lengthy and relies on cell metabolism – “absorption” or “intracellular uptake.” Nonviable cells have also been successfully used in metal removal from contaminated sites. Some of the technologies in heavy metal removals, such as High Rate Algal Ponds and Algal Turf Scrubber, have been justified for some practical application in China and abroad and limitations of these methods in large-scale still exist. As an innovative clean-up technology, it mainly depends on the biosorption and bioaccumulation abilities of algae, and the former is dominated in the whole process of bioremediation. Studies suggest that the constituents of algae cell wall such as alginate and fucoidan which have key functional groups are chiefly responsible for biosorption of heavy metal ions.
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