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Synthesis of Polyhydroxyalkanoates in Municipal Wastewater Treatment

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Biologically derived polyesters known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) represent a potentially “sustainable” replacement to fossil-fuel-based thermoplastics. However, current commercial practices that produce PHA with pure microbial cultures grown on renewable, but refined, feedstocks (i.e., glucose) under sterile conditions do not represent a sustainable commodity. Here, we report on PHA production with a mixed microbial consortium indigenous to an activated sludge process on carbon present in municipal wastewaters. Reactors operated under anaerobic/aerobic and aerobic-only mode and fed primary solids fermenter liquor maintained a mixed microbial consortium capable of synthesizing PHA at 10 to 25% (w/w), while reducing soluble COD by approximately 62 to 71%. More critically, an aerobic batch reactor seeded from the anaerobic/aerobic reactor and fed fermenter liquor achieved approximately 53% PHA (w/w). Results presented suggest that environmentally benign production of biodegradable polymers is feasible. We further used PHA-rich biomass to produce a natural fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite that can be used to offset advanced wastewater treatment costs.

Keywords: municipal wastewater treatment; natural fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composites; polyhydroxyalkanoates; polyhydroxybutyrate; polyhydroxyvalerate; primary solids fermenter liquor

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: November 1, 2007

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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