Degradation of volatile fatty acids by immobilised bacteria
The aims of this project were to study the immobilisation of microorganisms and the use of immobilised cell preparations in biochemical reactors. One particular process, the biodegradation of volatile fatty acids (VFAs), was chosen as a model system. Volatile fatty acids are compounds which are commonly found in odorous wastes and so can present a pollution problem. A bacterium was isolated, which was capable of VFA degradation in a minimal medium. The organism was identified as a strain of Alcaligenes denitrificans. The strain was able to grow on, and degrade, individual straight chain VFAs and mixtures, at concentrations much higher than those used in the isolation conditions. The strain was found to grow at a wide range of pH values, and a moderately wide range of growth temperatures. The strain was also tested for the degradation of VFAs in piggery slurry, but was found to be less effective than the natural population of organisms present in the waste. This bacterium was used to assess various immobilisation techniques, and their suitability for use in bioreactors. Four gel entrapment systems were tested. Conventional polyacrylamide and aluminium alginate gels both resulted in loss of cell viability. Calcium alginate was found to be too fragile for use in bioreactors, and only polyacrylamide hydrazide gel was found to be suitable. Beads of polyacrylamide hydrazide were used for longer term operation in a bubble column reactor, in a series of experiments to study the effects of changes in operating conditions, on bioreactor efficiency. Mathematical correlations were developed to explain the effects. Other parameters such as the mass transfer coefficients were calculated, to assist in the prediction of scale up. The second immobilisation system tested was adsorption to inorganic matrices. Four different types of particle were tested for their ability to adsorb non-growing cells from solution. The capacity to adsorb cells was related to the surface properties of the particles. Celite diatomaceous earth particles were found to have the greatest capacity to adsorb cells. Celite beads could be seeded in this manner, and then operated in a bubble column bioreactor. A biofilm was formed on the beads, which was capable of steady state biodegradation when the reactor was operated at dilution rates above the theoretical maximum for free cell growth. Bubble columns were the most suitable reactor of those tested for use with immobilised cell preparations. Mixing in these reactors was sufficient to provide good mass transfer, but not so violent as to disrupt the immobilised cell particles. Cell immobilisation by adsorption onto Celite was found to have several advantages over the other systems tested. The matrix could adsorb large quantities of cells, resulting in rapid biofilm formation and was also relatively cheap. Therefore, this appears to be an excellent new technique, and its potential applications in industrial processes are discussed.