Production of bio-based chemicals have become increasingly attractive as efforts to meet carbon neutrality goals expand. Diverse organic waste feedstocks can be valorized via arrested anaerobic digestion and chain elongation to produce important key intermediates, such as medium chain carboxylic acids. Our work aims to develop a carbon negative biorefinery that funnels multiple organic waste feedstocks into a chemically consistent stream of carboxylic acids that are then upgraded to exemplary carbon negative products. The pairing of a hydrolysis reactor with a chain elongation reactor will allow each biological step to be optimized to improve the ability to valorize a variety of organic waste streams. Specifically, this work has so far been aimed at screening for potential chain elongating organisms to produce VFAs and MCCAs of interest. Four chain elongating organisms were tested for their chain elongation potential with diverse single and mixed substrates. So far, Megasphaera elsdenii and Actinobacillus succinogenes have been tested to determine potential differences in titer as well as product speciation due to variations in pH. To do this, each organism was tested under 3 different substrate combinations with pH maintained at either 5.5, 6, or 7. With better understanding of their metabolic needs and optimal operating conditions, these chain elongating organisms could provide a valuable option to facilitate the chain elongation necessary to produce precursor molecules. In addition to optimizing the bioconversion steps, downstream processing of carboxylic acids is also a key component for the overall feasibility of the process. Our group previously developed a downstream in-situ product recovery (ISPR) process for continuously recovering bio-based carboxylic acids from fermentation broth. The ISPR includes: (i) a solid-liquid separation as a cell retention device, (ii) a liquid-liquid extraction (LLE) to selectively extract the desired bio-based acids, and (iii) a distillation to obtain the neat product. The integrated process was demonstrated at bench-scale and is now scaled up for pilot-scale operations. A more cost-efficient membrane-based emulsion separation is introduced for LLE in downstream separation process with greatly promoted mass transfer, leading to -2800 times smaller needed membrane area than membrane contactors to achieve the same butyric acid extraction rate.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages37
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

NamePresented at the 45th Symposium on Biomaterials, Fuels and Chemicals (SBFC), 30 April - 3 May 2023, Portland, Oregon

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-2800-86107


  • carboxylic acids
  • chain elongation
  • fermentation
  • liquid extraction
  • membrane-based phase separation


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