Background: Duckweeds (Lemnaceae) are efficient aquatic plants for wastewater treatment due to their high nutrient-uptake capabilities and resilience to severe environmental conditions. Combined with their rapid growth rates, high starch, and low lignin contents, duckweeds have also gained popularity as a biofuel feedstock for thermochemical conversion and alcohol fermentation. However, studies on the acidogenic anaerobic digestion of duckweed into carboxylic acids, another group of chemicals which are precursors of higher-value chemicals and biofuels, are lacking. In this study, a series of laboratory batch experiments were performed to determine the favorable operating conditions (i.e., temperature and pH) to maximize carboxylic acid production from wastewater-derived duckweed during acidogenic digestion. Batch reactors with 25 g/l solid loading were operated anaerobically for 21 days under mesophilic (35 °C) or thermophilic (55 °C) conditions at an acidic (5.3) or basic (9.2) pH. At the conclusion of the experiment, the dominant microbial communities under various operating conditions were assessed using high-throughput sequencing. Results: The highest duckweed-carboxylic acid conversion of 388 ± 28 mg acetic acid equivalent per gram volatile solids was observed under mesophilic and basic conditions, with an average production rate of 0.59 g/l/day. This result is comparable to those reported for acidogenic digestion of other organics such as food waste. The superior performance observed under these conditions was attributed to both chemical treatment and microbial bioconversion. Hydrogen recovery was only observed under acidic thermophilic conditions, as 23.5 ± 0.5 ml/g of duckweed volatile solids added. More than temperature, pH controlled the overall structure of the microbial communities. For instance, differentially abundant enrichments of Veillonellaceae acidaminococcus were observed in acidic samples, whereas enrichments of Clostridiaceae alkaliphilus were found in the basic samples. Acidic mesophilic conditions were found to enrich acetoclastic methanogenic populations over processing times longer than 10 days. Conclusions: Operating conditions have a significant effect on the yield and composition of the end products resulting from acidogenic digestion of duckweed. Wastewater-derived duckweed is a technically feasible alternative feedstock for the production of advanced biofuel precursors; however, techno-economic analysis is needed to determine integrated full-scale system feasibility and economic viability.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
- Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment
- Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law