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Impact of trace element addition on degradation efficiency of volatile fatty acids, oleic acid and phenyl acetate and on microbial populations in a biogas digester

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Abstract

The effect of trace element addition on anaerobic digestion of food industry- and household waste was studied using two semi-continuous lab-scale reactors, one (R30+) was supplied with Fe, Co and Ni, while the other (R30) acted as a control. Tracer analysis illustrated that methane production from acetate proceeded through syntrophic acetate oxidation (SAO) in both digesters. The effect of the trace elements was also evaluated in batch assays to determine the capacity of the microorganisms of the two digesters to degrade acetate, phenyl acetate, oleic acid or propionate, butyrate and valerate provided as a cocktail. The trace elements addition improved the performance of the process giving higher methane yields during start-up and early operation and lower levels of mainly acetate and propionate in the R30 + reactor. The batch assay showed that material from R30+ gave effects on methane production from all substrates tested. Phenyl acetate was observed to inhibit methane formation in the R30 but not in the R30+ assay. A real-time PCR analysis targeting methanogens on the order level as well as three SAO bacteria showed an increase in Methanosarcinales in the R30+ reactor over time, even though SAO continuously was the dominating pathway for methane production. Possibly, this increase explains the low VFA-levels and higher degradation rates observed in the R30+ batch incubations. These results show that the added trace elements affected the ability of the microflora to degrade VFAs as well as oleic acid and phenyl acetate in a community, where acetate utilization is dominated by SAO.

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