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Assessing the potential for up-cycling recovered resources from anaerobic digestion through microbial protein production.

  • Verbeeck, Kristof1, 2
  • De Vrieze, Jo1, 3
  • Pikaar, Ilje4
  • Verstraete, Willy1, 5
  • Rabaey, Korneel1, 3
  • 1 Center for Microbial Ecology & Technology (CMET), Ghent University, Coupure Links 653, Gent, B-9000, Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 2 ArcelorMittal Belgium, John F. Kennedylaan 51, B-9042, Gent, Belgium. , (Belgium)
  • 3 Centre for Advanced Process Technology for Urban Resource recovery (CAPTURE).
  • 4 Advanced Water Management Centre (AWMC), The University of Queensland, St Lucia, Qld, 4072, Australia. , (Australia)
  • 5 Avecom NV, Industrieweg 122P, Wondelgem, B-9032, Belgium. , (Belgium)
Published Article
Microbial Biotechnology
Wiley (Blackwell Publishing)
Publication Date
May 01, 2021
DOI: 10.1111/1751-7915.13600
PMID: 32525284


Anaerobic digesters produce biogas, a mixture of predominantly CH4 and CO2 , which is typically incinerated to recover electrical and/or thermal energy. In a context of circular economy, the CH4 and CO2 could be used as chemical feedstock in combination with ammonium from the digestate. Their combination into protein-rich bacterial, used as animal feed additive, could contribute to the ever growing global demand for nutritive protein sources and improve the overall nitrogen efficiency of the current agro- feed/food chain. In this concept, renewable CH4 and H2 can serve as carbon-neutral energy sources for the production of protein-rich cellular biomass, while assimilating and upgrading recovered ammonia from the digestate. This study evaluated the potential of producing sustainable high-quality protein additives in a decentralized way through coupling anaerobic digestion and microbial protein production using methanotrophic and hydrogenotrophic bacteria in an on-farm bioreactor. We show that a practical case digester handling liquid piggery manure, of which the energy content is supplemented for 30% with co-substrates, provides sufficient biogas to allow the subsequent microbial protein as feed production for about 37% of the number of pigs from which the manure was derived. Overall, producing microbial protein on the farm from available methane and ammonia liberated by anaerobic digesters treating manure appears economically and technically feasible within the current range of market prices existing for high-quality protein. The case of producing biomethane for grid injection and upgrading the CO2 with electrolytic hydrogen to microbial protein by means of hydrogen-oxidizing bacteria was also examined but found less attractive at the current production prices of renewable hydrogen. Our calculations show that this route is only of commercial interest if the protein value equals the value of high-value protein additives like fishmeal and if the avoided costs for nutrient removal from the digestate are taken into consideration. © 2020 The Authors. Microbial Biotechnology published by John Wiley & Sons Ltd and Society for Applied Microbiology.

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