Green technology for conversion of food scraps to biodegradable thermoplastic polyhydroxyalkanoates

  • Du G
  • Yu J
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A new technology is developed and demonstrated that couples anaerobic digestion of food scraps with production of biodegradable thermoplastics, polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). The food wastes were digested in an anaerobic reactor producing four major organic acids. The concentrations of acetic, propionic, butyric, and lactic acids reached 5.5, 1.8, 27.4, and 32.7 g/L, respectively. The fermentative acids were transferred through membranes via molecule diffusion into an air-bubbling reactor where the acids were utilized to produce PHAs in an enriched culture of Ralstonia eutropha. With a silicone rubber membrane, butyric acid and small amounts of acetic and propionic acids were transferred and used, producing a homopolymer PHA, poly(3-hydroxybutyrate). The dry cell weight and PHA content reached 11.3 g/L and 60.2% (w/w), respectively. With a dialysis membrane, the mass transfer rates of fermentative acids were enhanced, and the PHA production was significantly improved. The dry cell weight and its PHA content reached 22.7 g/L and 72.6% (w/w), respectively. The formed PHA was a copolymer of 3-hydroxybutyrate and 3-hydroxyvalerate (HV) with 2.8 mol % HV monomer unit. The polymer content (72.6% of dry cell mass) reported in this study is the highest one obtained from organic wastes and is comparable with the PHA content from pure glucose fermentation.

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