Microalgae could be beneficial in hydroponics

Hydroponic systems are efficient systems for vegetable production where plants grow 30-50% faster than in soil. Microalgae affect water quality parameters such as pH, dissolved oxygen, consumption of nutrients in the water, and can compete with the target vegetable. Microalgae can even act as buffers and prevent effective chemical disinfection. Therefore, they are generally accepted as a "weed" in hydroponic systems and great efforts are made to minimize algal populations in hydroponic systems.

However, microalgae can also be beneficial for plant growth. The oxygen produced by the photosynthesis of microalgae prevents anaerobiosis in the root system of plants, thus preventing injury to plant roots. Microalgae also secrete various substances (such as phytohormones and protein hydrolysates) that can act as plant growth promoters and biofertilizers, especially during the early stages of plant growth, germination, and root development. The presence of microalgae can significantly improve the removal rate of dissolved solids, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus from hydroponic wastewater. 

In the Water2REturn project, microalgae and residual water after harvesting microalgae were tested in hydroponic growth of lettuce and tomato at the University of Ljubljana. The microalgae thrived in the hydroponic systems and the vegetables grew well in all treatments, with or without microalgae. At the end of the experiment, there was no statistical difference between the fresh weight of the lettuce heads, while the addition of treated - autoclaved - microalgae and the use of residual water after harvesting had a significant positive effect on the growth of the lettuce roots. In the experiment with tomatoes, the control treatment consumed 50% more mineral fertilizer compared to the addition of microalgae residual water (supernatant), while tomato yield was comparable, proving that algae improved the nutrient utilization of the hydroponic system. Root system growth was significantly improved by the addition of microalgae or supernatant (residual) water to the hydroponic system.

Read the complete article at www.water2return.eu.

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