Studies assess feasibility of aquaculture wastewater treatment methods

Four studies published by Purdue University scientists document the feasibility of previously unproven methods for successfully treating wastewater from aquaculture production operations.

Food Science professor Jen-Yi Huang leads a team creating a pilot-scale aquaculture system use algae for wastewater treatment. Experiments are underway to determine which algae variety will be most effective for use in this system.
May 21, 2024

Four studies published by Purdue University scientists document the feasibility of previously unproven methods for successfully treating wastewater from aquaculture production operations.

“Those wastewaters are not good for the environment because they discharge a large amount of nutrients like nitrogen and phosphorus,” said Jen-Yi Huang, associate professor of food science. These nutrients cause harmful conditions such as oxygen depletion and algae blooms when they are discharged into the aquatic environment.

“We want to use microalgae as a wastewater treatment approach. We grow algae in the aquaculture wastewater,” said Huang, who led a study focusing on microbial use of nutrients as a biological wastewater treatment method.

A dozen scientists at Purdue and institutions in Egypt, India and Turkey contributed to the research. All four studies were funded by a USD 10 million grant from the U.S. Department of Agriculture National Institute of Food and Agriculture aimed at increasing Midwestern seafood production and consumption.

Life cycle assessment on microalgae-based treatments

In Bioresource Technology, Huang and his co-authors presented the results of their life cycle assessment (LCA) on microalgae-based treatments of wastewater from a recirculating aquaculture system for shrimp. The LCA analyzed the environmental impact of the shrimp production process from feed production to wastewater treatment for a commercial farm in Fowler, Indiana.

“The result of this paper provides the proof of concept on an experimental scale,” Huang said.

The USDA projects seek to develop zero-waste aquaculture and aquaponics systems. “We want to fully recover the nutrients from the wastewater using microalgae,” Huang said.

The goal is to ensure that zero-waste food production is both technically feasible and environmentally sustainable. The latter requires a production system that avoids generating a large environmental footprint.

“There is a trade-off because operating the microalgae wastewater treatment still requires some energy input,” Huang said. “The LCA evaluated the tradeoff between the nutrient recovery and additional energy input for the algal wastewater treatment.”

Huang’s team found that the microalgae wastewater treatment process is environmentally feasible. Further, the team found that even with the energy requirements factored in, the microalgae treatment works better than the conventional activated-sludge wastewater treatment method.

“Using the microalgae as the wastewater treatment method can indeed improve the environmental performance of aquaculture production,” Huang said.

Treating wastewater in tilapia and shrimp farming

All three studies by Simsek’s team were conducted at Purdue’s Aquaculture Research Laboratory. In two of those studies, the scientists analyzed treating separate tilapia and shrimp wastewater streams with the same four strains of algae and two strains of bacteria.

“Wastewater always has bacteria,” Simsek said. “We are using natural bacteria that already exist in the wastewater to remove contaminants.”

The research team measured nitrate, nitrite, ammonium and other parameters in the wastewater during the experiments. These included chemical oxygen demand, a measure of environmentally harmful effluent discharge.

“All these parameters can be removed in the wastewaters using algae and bacteria together,” Simsek said. The types of algae and bacteria selected for the study are the most commonly occurring natural strains. “Every wastewater is different,” he noted, meaning that different industrial sectors produce different wastewater and, therefore, may need different treatment methods.

Study results demonstrated the potential for applying microalgae and native bacteria together for treating larger-scale tilapia wastewater. In a 2023 study, Simsek and his co-authors evaluated electrocoagulation (EC) and electrooxidation (EO) treatments of shrimp wastewater, both separately and together. EC and EO, widely used methods for treating agricultural and other types of wastewater, remove pollutants via electricity to drive chemical reactions. The researchers also applied a modeling approach often used to determine optimal factors that affect the electrochemical method.

“The results of the study show EC and EO processes are potentially beneficial for the treatment of aquaculture wastewater,” Simsek and his co-authors wrote. They suggested larger-scale testing of EC and EO for the treatment to reduce toxic environmental effects.

“The developed treatment system combined with other treatment methods could be useful to treat various types of wastewater throughout the world, which can help support the development of the zero-waste policy,” they wrote.

Huang and Simsek contributed to all four papers, along with professor Paul Brown and postdoctoral research associate Aya Hussain, both in forestry and natural resources.


April J. Arbour, Pankaj Bhatt, Halis Simsek, Paul B. Brown, Jen-Yi Huang. Life cycle assessment on environmental feasibility of microalgae-based wastewater treatment for shrimp recirculating aquaculture systems, Bioresource Technology, Volume 399, 2024, 130578,

Pankaj Bhatt, Paul B. Brown, Jen-Yi Huang, Aya S. Hussain, Henry T. Liu, Halis Simsek. Algae and indigenous bacteria consortium in treatment of shrimp wastewater: A study for resource recovery in sustainable aquaculture system, Environmental Research, Volume 250, 2024, 118447,

Yolanys Aranda-Vega, Pankaj Bhatt, Jen-Yi Huang, Paul Brown, Aparajita Bhasin, Aya S. Hussain, Halis Simsek. Biodegradability and bioavailability of dissolved substances in aquaculture effluent: Performance of indigenous bacteria, cyanobacteria, and green microalgae, Environmental Pollution, Volume 345, 2024, 123468,

Pankaj Bhatt, Jen-Yi Huang, Paul Brown, Karthik B. Shivaram, Elif Yakamercan, Halis Simsek, Electrochemical treatment of aquaculture wastewater effluent and optimization of the parameters using response surface methodology, Environmental Pollution, Volume 331, Part 1, 2023, 121864,