New bioprocess converts acid whey without additional chemicals
Researchers at the University of Tübingen in Germany have created a new bioprocess that successfully converts a common dairy byproduct, acid whey, without the addition of other chemicals.
For every liter of milk that is implemented into all milk products, another two liters of wastewater results from the process, this is called “acid whey”. Unfortunately, as the wastewater exists immediately following this process, the acid levels are too high to offer as feed for animals. Instead, it is often utilized as fertilizer or treated.
The new process developed by Lars Angenent, Humboldt Professor of Environmental Biotechnology at the University of Tübingen, involves exposing the wastewater to bacteria, running the wastewater through a reactor microbiome.
“This microbiome is an open culture, which means bacteria from the outside environment can also enter and grow, similar to our gut microbiome,” says Angenent. “No sterilization of the tank or wastewater is necessary. The bacteria are selected and tricked to elongate the carbon backbone of chemicals by a process that we call chain elongation.”
The treated product undergoes this process of chain elongation until it has formed six to nine carbons in a row. Depending on desire, this newly treated product either stop here and be utilized as an antimicrobial for animals, or it can be further processed in a refinery to create aviation fuel.
Angenent claims the lack of need for outside chemicals is the main takeaway from this new process.
“The innovation of the research is that the process does not need any other carbon-rich chemicals and only needs the wastewater itself,” he explains. “In the past, chain elongation needed external, expensive chemicals.”
Moving forward, further study will attempt to determine whether other types of wastewater beyond the dairy industry can be treated with the same process.