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ISSE Seed Project: Microbial Community Structure in Anaerobic Digestion

Principal Investigator: Qiang He, Civil and Environmental Engineering

2013-2014 Report

diagram of crown-ether attachment
Identification of specific microbial populations in anaerobic digestion

Anaerobic digestion is an important biological waste treatment process capable of simultaneous pollution mitigation and renewable energy recovery. The broader adoption of anaerobic digestion technology for waste treatment has been hindered by concerns of potential process instability resulting from the susceptibility of bacterial and methanogenic microbial populations to changes in process conditions, such as fluctuations in organic loading rates, which are frequently encountered in anaerobic digestion processes. Therefore, we have sought to gain insight into the linkages between process performance and the microbial community, which is valuable for developing efficient methanogenic processes. We have shown that anaerobic co-digestion of wastewater with other organic-rich feedstock, such as grease trap waste and food waste, can significantly enhance methane production efficiency. With the development of cutting-edge molecular tools, we have been able to identify microbial populations key to the stability of process performance when anaerobic digestion is impacted by substrate overloading. These important findings will be used to develop more efficient methane recovery technologies that could help to overcome the technical and economical barriers to the broader application of methane recovery from wastewater and beyond.

diagram of crown-ether attachment