The removal and biodegradation of nonylphenol (NP) by alginate-immobilized cells of Chlorella vulgaris were compared with their respective free cultures. The effects of four cell densities of 10(4) per algal bead were investigated, as were the four algal bead concentrations, with regard to the removal and biodegradation of NP. Although immobilization significantly decreased the growth rate and NP's biodegradation efficiency of C. vulgaris, NP removal over a short period was enhanced. The NP removal mechanism by immobilized cells was similar to that by free cells, including adsorption onto alginate matrix and algal cells, absorption within cells and cellular biodegradation. The optimal cell density and bead concentration for the removal and biodegradation of NP was 50-100×10(4) cells algal bead(-1) and 2-4 beads ml(-1) of wastewater, respectively. These results demonstrated that immobilized C. vulgaris cells under optimal biomass and photoautotrophic conditions are effective in removing NP from contaminated water.