June 17, 2023

Enhancing organic matter removal, product recovery, and hydrogen generation from fermentation wastewater


Existing ethanol biorefineries produce billions of gallons of wastewater (stillage) that must be treated extensively prior to discharge or concentrated in an energy intense evaporation step to produce animal feed as a value-added bioproduct. Yeasts and filamentous fungi were screened for growth and reduction of soluble organic compounds, carbohydrates, and protein from stillage to identify species capable of rapidly concentrating organic compounds into readily separable biomass in an attempt to concentrate the product using a much more efficient centrifugation step. Yeasts amenable to production of biomass derived products including bio-oils (Yarrowia lipolytica and Rhodotorula pallida), chitosan (Aspergillus niger) and animal feed (Cyberlindnera jadinii) were identified as well as microbes capable of efficient production of small organic acids with applications as bioderived polymers including 3-hydroxypropionic acid (engineered A. niger) and lactic acid using a co-culture of Debaryomyces udenii and Lactobacillus pentosus. The filamentous fungus A. niger eliminated all specifically measured soluble organics (glycerol, acetate, lactate, ethanol, and citrate) in under 48 hours and reduced total soluble protein content by 46% and total carbohydrate content by 83% within 96 hours, the greatest reduction in organic content observed. During this process an A. niger strain engineered to produce 3-hydroxypropionic acid achieved a yield of 0.35 C-mol 3HP / C-mol non-protein organics consumed at an overall rate of 0.09 g/Lh in unmodified stillage without pH control. Stillage treated by the fodder yeast C. jadinii as well as stillage containing acetic or lactic acid was found to be most suitable for growth by electrogenic bacteria with applications in production of electricity or hydrogen from wastewater. This work establishes fungal and bacterial strains appropriate for biological treatment of stillage to produce biomass derived products, soluble commodity chemicals, energy, and treated water to reduce the energy intensity and improve the economics of ethanol biorefineries.

Published: June 17, 2023


Pomraning K.R., J.K. Magnuson, A.S. Beliaev, E.A. Hill, A.L. Robles, M.R. Garcia, and T.L. Lemmon. 2022. Enhancing organic matter removal, product recovery, and hydrogen generation from fermentation wastewater Richland, WA: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory.