Improving Volatile Fatty Acid Productivity of Anaerobic Digestion

Ethan Arends, Henry Cutting, Drazenka Svedruzic, Jorge Rico Reyes, Susan De Long, Venkat Subramanian, Stephen Decker

Research output: NRELPoster


Typical anaerobic digestion (AD) focusses on complete conversion of waste to biogas (primarily carbon dioxide and methane). However, the intermediate metabolites of the AD process, which includes short- and long-chain volatile fatty acids (VFAs), that could serve as the precursors for useful industrial applications are typically ignored. The goal of this project is to eliminate production of biogas while enhancing the production of the intermediate VFAs. Using a mixed microbial consortium (from rumen sources and waste-water sludge), we have determined the optimal carbon loading (chemical oxygen demand, "COD") and optimal pH, that results in high VFA concentrations from food waste. The best VFA yields were obtained using 15 g COD/L and a pH of 9.0 for this substrate. pH 9 produced over 200% higher VFA titers than the controlled conditions (i.e., ph 7.0) after 35 d of digestion, in comparison to pH 5 that showed - 88% higher titers than the control digestion. As expected, the cumulative biogas production was highest in the pH 7.0 condition, in comparison to pH 5.0 or pH 9.0. We further observed that removal of VFAs using solid-liquid separation technique reduce the inhibitory effects of VFAs, thereby leading to overall improvement in conversion efficiency. 16s rRNA analysis is being carried out to explain and identify the biocatalysts that enable VFA production in these AD cultures. Additional efforts to improve VFA yields via increasing the total solid content, temperature optimizations, VFA removal via electrodialysis, and improving hydrolysis via microaeration will be presented.
Original languageAmerican English
StatePublished - 2023

Publication series

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

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PO-2700-86153


  • anaerobic digestion
  • biogas
  • food waste
  • volatile fatty acids


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