Microbial Electrochemical Treatment of Biorefinery Black Liquor and Resource Recovery

Xi Chen, Rui Katahira, Zheng Ge, Lu Lu, Dianxun Hou, Darren J. Peterson, Melvin P. Tucker, Xiaowen Chen, Zhiyong Jason Ren

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus Citations


Biorefineries valorize waste biomass to biofuels and bioproducts, but the associated wastewater treatment is costly and energy-intensive. This study demonstrates that not only the recalcitrant black liquor generated from biorefineries can be treated using a microbial electrochemical process, but also value-added materials including lignin, chemicals, and H2 can be separated to enable resource recovery. A lab scale microbial biomass recovery cell (MBRC) was developed to treat the actual black liquor from the deacetylation and mechanical refining (DMR) process, and the results show that 60.1-73.8% of organics, 52.0-54.6% of salts, and 30.8-49.5% of lignin were removed using different operational modes. Moreover, by utilizing the unique pH gradient generated between the different reactor chambers, tailored recoveries of lignin, chemicals, and H2 were realized for the first time. The recoveries of lignin and salts were up to 61.2 ± 2.7% and 92.2 ± 1.6%, respectively. Ion transfer and organic transformation were further analyzed to understand the reaction mechanisms and improve the system performance.

Original languageAmerican English
Pages (from-to)1258-1266
Number of pages9
JournalGreen Chemistry
Issue number6
StatePublished - 2019

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2019 The Royal Society of Chemistry.

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/JA-5100-72394


  • DMR
  • microbial electrochemistry
  • waste utilization


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