Controlling Ethanol Use in Chain Elongation by CO2 Loading Rate

Environ Sci Technol. 2018 Feb 6;52(3):1496-1505. doi: 10.1021/acs.est.7b04904. Epub 2018 Jan 24.


Chain elongation is an open-culture biotechnological process which converts volatile fatty acids (VFAs) into medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) using ethanol and other reduced substrates. The objective of this study was to investigate the quantitative effect of CO2 loading rate on ethanol usages in a chain elongation process. We supplied different rates of CO2 to a continuously stirred anaerobic reactor, fed with ethanol and propionate. Ethanol was used to upgrade ethanol itself into caproate and to upgrade the supplied VFA (propionate) into heptanoate. A high CO2 loading rate (2.5 LCO2·L-1·d-1) stimulated excessive ethanol oxidation (EEO; up to 29%) which resulted in a high caproate production (10.8 g·L-1·d-1). A low CO2 loading rate (0.5 LCO2·L-1·d-1) reduced EEO (16%) and caproate production (2.9 g·L-1·d-1). Heptanoate production by VFA upgrading remained constant (∼1.8 g·L-1·d-1) at CO2 loading rates higher than or equal to 1 LCO2·L-1·d-1. CO2 was likely essential for growth of chain elongating microorganisms while it also stimulated syntrophic ethanol oxidation. A high CO2 loading rate must be selected to upgrade ethanol (e.g., from lignocellulosic bioethanol) into MCFAs whereas lower CO2 loading rates must be selected to upgrade VFAs (e.g., from acidified organic residues) into MCFAs while minimizing use of costly ethanol.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Bioreactors*
  • Biotechnology
  • Carbon Dioxide*
  • Ethanol
  • Fatty Acids, Volatile


  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Carbon Dioxide
  • Ethanol