Volatile fatty acid (VFA) rich streams from fermentation of organic residuals and wastewater are suitable feedstocks for mixed microbial culture (MMC) Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA) production. However, many such streams have low total VFA concentration (1-10 gCOD/L). PHA accumulation requires a flow-through bioprocess if the VFAs are not concentrated. A flow through bioprocess must balance goals of productivity (highest possible influent flow rates) with goals of substrate utilization efficiency (lowest possible effluent VFA concentration). Towards these goals, dynamics of upshift and downshift respiration kinetics for laboratory and pilot scale MMCs were evaluated. Monod kinetics described a hysteresis between the upshift and downshift responses. Substrate concentrations necessary to stimulate a given substrate uptake rate were significantly higher than the concentrations necessary to sustain the attained substrate uptake rate. A benefit of this hysteresis was explored in Monte Carlo based PHA accumulation bioprocess numerical simulations. Simulations illustrated for a potential to establish continuous flow-through PHA production bioprocesses even at a low (1 gCOD/L) influent total VFA concentration. Process biomass recirculation into an engineered higher substrate concentration mixing zone, due to the constant influent substrate flow, enabled to drive the process to maximal possible PHA production rates without sacrificing substrate utilization efficiency.
Keywords: Monod kinetics; activated sludge; hysteresis; mixed microbial cultures; oxygen mass balance; polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA); polyhydroxybutyrate (PHB); process modelling; respiration kinetics.