Production of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) by open mixed microbial cultures (MMCs) has been attracting increasing interest as an alternative technology to PHA production by pure cultures, due to the potential for lower costs associated with the use of open systems (eliminating the requirement for sterile conditions) and the utilisation of cheap feedstock (industrial and agricultural wastes). Such technology relies on the efficient selection of an MMC enriched in PHA-accumulating organisms. Fermented cheese whey, a protein-rich complex feedstock, has been used previously to produce PHA using the feast and famine regime for selection of PHA accumulating cultures. While this selection strategy was found efficient when operated at relatively low organic loading rate (OLR, 2 g-COD L−1 d−1), great instability and low selection efficiency of PHA accumulating organisms were observed when higher OLR (ca. 6 g-COD L−1 d−1) was applied. High organic loading is desirable as a means to enhance PHA productivity. In the present study, a new selection strategy was tested with the aim of improving selection for high OLR. It was based on uncoupling carbon and nitrogen supply and was implemented and compared with the conventional feast and famine strategy. For this, two selection reactors were fed with fermented cheese whey applying an OLR of ca. 8.5 g-COD L−1 (with 3.8 g-COD L−1 resulting from organic acids and ethanol), and operated in parallel under similar conditions, except for the timing of nitrogen supplementation. Whereas in the conventional strategy nitrogen and carbon substrates were added simultaneously at the beginning of the cycle, in the uncoupled substrates strategy, nitrogen addition was delayed to the end of the feast phase (i.e. after exogenous carbon was exhausted). The two different strategies selected different PHA-storing microbial communities, dominated by Corynebacterium and a Xantomonadaceae, respectively with the conventional and the new approaches. The new strategy originated a more efficient PHA-production process than the conventional one (global PHA productivity of 6.09 g-PHA L−1 d−1 and storage yield of 0.96 versus 2.55 g-PHA L−1 d−1 and 0.86, respectively). Dissociation between the feast to famine length ratio (F/F) and storage efficiency was shown to be possible with the new strategy, allowing selection of an efficient PHA-storing culture with complex feedstock under high organic loading rates.
- Cheese whey
- Culture selection
- Mixed microbial cultures (MMC)
- Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA)