Volatile fatty acids impacting phototrophic growth kinetics of purple bacteria: Paving the way for protein production on fermented wastewater

Water Res. 2019 Apr 1;152:138-147. doi: 10.1016/j.watres.2018.12.025. Epub 2018 Dec 27.


Nutrient losses in our food chain severely surpass our planetary boundaries. Resource recovery can contribute to mitigation, for instance through converting wastewater resources to microbial protein for animal feed. Wastewater typically holds a complex mixture of organics, posing a challenge to selectively produce heterotrophic biomass. Ensuring the product's quality could be achieved by anaerobic generation of volatile fatty acids (VFAs) followed by photoheterotrophic production of purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB) with infrared light. This study aimed to determine the most suitable PNSB culture for VFA conversion and map the effect of acetate, propionate, butyrate and a VFA mixture on growth and biomass yield. Six cultures were screened in batch: (i) Rhodopseudomonas palustris, (ii) Rhodobacter sphaeroides, (iii) Rhodospirillum rubrum, (iv) a 3-species synthetic community (i+ii+iii), (v) a community enriched on VFA holding Rb. capsulatus, and (vi) Rb. capsulatus (isolate 'v'). The VFA mixture elevated growth rates with a factor 1.3-2.5 compared to individual VFA. Rb. capsulatus showed the highest growth rates: 1.8-2.2 d-1 (enriched) and 2.3-3.8 d-1 (isolated). In a photobioreactor (PBR) inoculated with the Rb. capsulatus enrichment, decreasing sludge retention time (SRT) yielded lower biomass concentrations, yet increased productivities, reaching 1.7 g dry weight (DW) L-1 d-1, the highest phototrophic rate reported thus far, and a growth rate of up to 5 d-1. PNSB represented 26-57% of the community and the diversity index was low (3-7), with a dominance of Rhodopseudomonas at long SRT and Rhodobacter at short SRT. The biomass yield for all cultures, in batch and reactor cultivation, approached 1 g CODBiomass g-1 CODRemoved. An economic estimation for a two-stage approach on brewery wastewater (load 2427 kg COD d-1) showed that 0.5 d SRT allowed for the lowest production cost (€ 10 kg-1 DW; equal shares for capex and opex). The findings strengthen the potential for a novel two-stage approach for resource recovery from industrial wastewater, enabling high-rate PNSB production.

Keywords: Carbon capture; Carboxylate platform; Phototrophic purple bacteria; Short-chain fatty acids; Single-cell protein.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Kinetics
  • Phototrophic Processes
  • Proteobacteria*
  • Wastewater*


  • Fatty Acids, Volatile
  • Waste Water