Zachary T. Dobroth, Shengjun Hu, Erik R. Coats, Armando G. McDonald
Department of Civil Engineering, University of Idaho, Moscow, ID 83844-1022, USA.
Crude glycerol (CG), a by-product of biodiesel production, is an organic carbon-rich substrate with potential as feedstock for polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) production. PHA is a biodegradable thermoplastic synthesized by microorganisms as an intracellular granule. In this study we investigated PHA production on CG using mixed microbial consortia (MMC) and determined that the enriched MMC produced exclusively polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB) utilizing the methanol fraction. PHB synthesis appeared to be stimulated by a macronutrient deficiency. Intracellular concentrations remained relatively constant over an operational cycle, with microbial growth occurring concurrent with polymer synthesis. PHB average molecular weights ranged from 200–380 kDa, while thermal properties compared well with commercial PHB. The resulting PHB material properties and characteristics would be suitable for many commercial uses. Considering full-scale process application, it was estimated that a 38 million L (10 million gallon) per year biodiesel operation could potentially produce up to 19 metric ton (20.9 ton) of PHB per year.