Bioeconomy Science Center
Research and cooperation for a sustainable bioeconomy

Bioeconomy Science Center
Research and cooperation for a sustainable bioeconomy
BOOST FUND Project AlgalFertilizer

Algae delivering waste phosphorus to soil and crops


The overall goal of the project AlgalFertilizer was to assess the feasibility of using green algae to extract phosphorus from waste-water streams and to apply the phosphate-rich algal biomass directly as a fertilizer to the soil. The motivation for this research is the fact that phosphate is currently extracted from finite rock deposits and is very inefficiently used. Therefore, the project contributes to find sustainable strategies to manage the global phosphate reserves more efficiently.

In four Work Packages we investigated different aspects of including algae in the phosphate usage cycle. We investigated the efficiency of phosphate uptake by selected green algae, studied how the phosphate is taken up and converted by the algae, monitored how the phosphate is released from the algae to the soil when applied as fertilizer and how the phosphate enters the plant, and we built mathematical models describing these processes to gain a theoretical understanding of the underlying mechanisms and to provide the basis to built predictive tools that will help to optimize the algal fertilizing strategy.

We found that algae are capable of taking up by far more phosphate than they need to grow. Specifying the exact conditions and identifying the best strains for such a luxury uptake will now help to optimize phosphate extraction of waste-water streams, thus making phosphate use more efficient and contributing to waste-water treatment simultaneously. Internally algae store phosphate in the form of inorganic poly-phosphate. To quantify and localize these phosphate pools we have developed a novel technique based on Raman spectroscopy. Our mathematical models helped to gain insight into this luxury-uptake process and helped understanding the conversion between the various internal phosphate pools. With these models it is now possible in future research to optimize the phosphate uptake efficiency during waste-water treatment. Whether phosphate-rich algal biomass is applied to soil after drying or not does not considerably affect the efficiency of the fertilizing effect. Moreover, we could demonstrate that the algal fertilizers perform at least as good as classical farm fertilizers and only marginally less than the best available mineral fertilizers.

In summary, our project confirmed the feasibility to use algae to extract phosphate from phosphate-rich waste-water streams and apply these algae directly as fertilizer to soil, where the fertilizing efficiency is comparable to that of mineral fertilizers. In future projects it now needs to be evaluated how this strategy can be implemented in a cost-efficient and aconomic manner.


Rootsystem of a wheat plant in a rhizotron (left), radioactive isotope of phosphorus (33P) visualized by bioimager (right).

Participating Core Groups

Jun.-Prof. Oliver Ebenhöh, Quantitative und Theoretische Biologie, HHU Düsseldorf
Dr. Ladislav Nedbal / Dr. Nicolai D. Jablonowski / Prof. Ulrich Schurr, IBG-2, Forschungszentrum Jülich 
Dr. Nina Siebers / Dr. Diana Hofmann/ Prof. Harry Vereecken, IBG-3, Forschungszentrum Jülich
Dr. Tabea Mettler-Altmann, Biochemie der Pflanzen, HHU Düsseldorf
Prof. Wulf Amelung, INRES Bodenwissenschaften, Universität Bonn

Contact (Coordinator)
Jun.-Prof. Oliver Ebenhöh
Quantitative und Theoretische Biologie
Heinrich-Heine-Universität Düsseldorf
Tel: +49 211 81-02922

Project duration

Funding budget
The total budget of AlgalFertilizer is € 698.252. AlgalFertilizer is part of the NRW-Strategieprojekt BioSC and thus funded by the Ministry of Innovation, Science and Research of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.


Singh, D, Nedbal, L, and Ebenhöh, O (2017) Modelling phosphorus uptake in microalgae. Biochem Soc Trans 46(2): 483-490.

Schreiber, C, Schiedung, H, Harrison, L, Briese, C, Ackermann, B, Kant, J, Schrey, SD, Hofmann, D, Singh, D, Ebenhöh, O, Amelung, W, Schurr, U, Mettler-Altmann, T, Huber, G, Jablonowski, ND and Nedbal, L (2018). Evaluating potential of green alga Chlorella vulgaris to accumulate phosphorus and to fertilize nutrient-poor soil substrates for crop plants. Journal of Applied Phycology. 

MoudÅ™íková, Š, Nedbal, L, Solovchenko, A and Mojzeš, P (2017)
. Raman microscopy shows that nitrogen-rich cellular inclusions in microalgae are microcrystalline guanine. Algal Research 23: 216-222.

Moudrikova, S, Sadowsky, A, Metzger, S, Nedbal, L, Mettler-Altmann, T and Mojzes, P (2017). Quantification of Polyphosphate in Microalgae by Raman Microscopy and by a Reference Enzymatic Assay. Anal Chem 89(22): 12006-12013.
Solovchenko, A, Verschoor, AM, Jablonowski, ND and Nedbal, L (2016)
. Phosphorus from wastewater to crops: An alternative path involving microalgae. Biotechnol Adv 34(5): 550-564.