Adjusting Organic Load as a Strategy to Direct Single-Stage Food Waste Fermentation from Anaerobic Digestion to Chain Elongation

Vicky De Groof, Marta Coma, Tom Arnot, David Leak, Ana Lanham

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11 Citations (SciVal)
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Production of medium chain carboxylic acids (MCCA) as renewable feedstock bio-chemicals, from food waste (FW), requires complicated reactor configurations and supplementation of chemicals to achieve product selectivity. This study evaluated the manipulation of organic loading rate in an un-supplemented, single stage stirred tank reactor to steer an anaerobic digestion (AD) microbiome towards acidogenic fermentation (AF), and thence to chain elongation. Increasing substrate availability by switching to a FW feedstock with a higher COD stimulated chain elongation. The MCCA species n-caproic (10.1 ± 1.7 g L−1) and n-caprylic (2.9 ± 0.8 g L−1) acid were produced at concentrations comparable to more complex reactor set-ups. As a result, of the adjusted operating strategy, a more specialised microbiome developed containing several MCCA-producing bacteria, lactic acid-producing Olsenella spp. and hydrogenotrophic methanogens. By contrast, in an AD reactor that was operated in parallel to produce biogas, the retention times had to be doubled when fed with the high-COD FW to maintain biogas production. The AD microbiome comprised a diverse mixture of hydrolytic and acidogenic bacteria, and acetoclastic methanogens. The results suggest that manipulation of organic loading rate and food-to-microorganism ratio may be used as an operating strategy to direct an AD microbiome towards AF, and to stimulate chain elongation in FW fermentation, using a simple, un-supplemented stirred tank set-up. This outcome provides the opportunity to repurpose existing AD assets operating on food waste for biogas production, to produce potentially higher value MCCA products, via simple manipulation of the feeding strategy.

This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under the Marie Skłodowska-Curie grant agreement No 665992
Original languageEnglish
Article number1487
Number of pages18
Issue number11
Publication statusPublished - 18 Nov 2020


  • acidogenic fermentation
  • anaerobic digestion
  • food waste
  • medium chain carboxylic acids
  • microbial chain elongation
  • mixed culture
  • organic loading rate

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Bioengineering
  • Engineering (miscellaneous)
  • Environmental Engineering
  • Biotechnology


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