Short-chain carboxylates such as acetate are easily produced through mixed culture fermentation of many biological waste streams, although routinely digested to biogas and combusted rather than harvested. We developed a pipeline to extract and upgrade short-chain carboxylates to esters via membrane electrolysis and biphasic esterification. Carboxylate-rich broths are electrolyzed in a cathodic chamber from which anions flux across an anion exchange membrane into an anodic chamber, resulting in a clean acid concentrate with neither solids nor biomass. Next, the aqueous carboxylic acid concentrate reacts with added alcohol in a water-excluding phase to generate volatile esters. In a batch extraction, 96 ± 1.6% of the total acetate was extracted in 48 h from biorefinery thin stillage (5 g L-1 acetate) at 379 g m-2 d-1 (36% Coulombic efficiency). With continuously regenerated thin stillage, the anolyte was concentrated to 14 g/L acetic acid, and converted at 2.64 g (acetate) L-1 h-1 in the first hour to ethyl acetate by the addition of excess ethanol and heating to 70 °C, with a final total conversion of 58 ± 3%. This processing pipeline enables direct production of fine chemicals following undefined mixed culture fermentation, embedding carbon in industrial chemicals rather than returning them to the atmosphere as carbon dioxide.
ASJC Scopus subject areas
- Environmental Chemistry