Thermophilic, anaerobic co-digestion of microalgal biomass and cellulose for H2 production

Biodegradation. 2011 Jul;22(4):805-14. doi: 10.1007/s10532-010-9419-z. Epub 2010 Sep 28.


Microalgal biomass has been a focus in the sustainable energy field, especially biodiesel production. The purpose of this study was to assess the feasibility of treating microalgal biomass and cellulose by anaerobic digestion for H2 production. A microbial consortium, TC60, known to degrade cellulose and other plant polymers, was enriched on a mixture of cellulose and green microalgal biomass of Dunaliella tertiolecta, a marine species, or Chlorella vulgaris, a freshwater species. After five enrichment steps at 60°C, hydrogen yields increased at least 10% under all conditions. Anaerobic digestion of D. tertiolecta and cellulose by TC60 produced 7.7 mmol H2/g volatile solids (VS) which were higher than the levels (2.9-4.2 mmol/g VS) obtained with cellulose and C. vulgaris biomass. Both microalgal slurries contained satellite prokaryotes. The C. vulgaris slurry, without TC60 inoculation, generated H2 levels on par with that of TC60 on cellulose alone. The biomass-fed anaerobic digestion resulted in large shifts in short chain fatty acid concentrations and increased ammonium levels. Growth and H2 production increased when TC60 was grown on a combination of D. tertiolecta and cellulose due to nutrients released from algal cells via lysis. The results indicated that satellite heterotrophs from C. vulgaris produced H2 but the Chlorella biomass was not substantially degraded by TC60. To date, this is the first study to examine H2 production by anaerobic digestion of microalgal biomass. The results indicate that H2 production is feasible but higher yields could be achieved by optimization of the bioprocess conditions including biomass pretreatment.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Anaerobiosis
  • Biodegradation, Environmental
  • Biofuels
  • Biomass
  • Bioreactors
  • Cellulose / metabolism*
  • Chlorella vulgaris / metabolism*
  • Chlorella vulgaris / microbiology
  • Chromatography, High Pressure Liquid
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile / biosynthesis
  • Fermentation*
  • Hydrogen* / metabolism
  • Microalgae / metabolism*
  • Microalgae / microbiology
  • Microbial Consortia


  • Biofuels
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Hydrogen
  • Cellulose