Production of ethanol, organic acids and hydrogen: an opportunity for mixed culture biotechnology?

  • Davide Dionisi
  • Igor M. O. Silva
Review Paper


Anaerobic fermentation of biodegradable organic materials is usually carried out to obtain the final product, methane, a valuable energy source. However, it is also well known that various intermediates are produced in this process, e.g. ethanol, volatile organic acids and hydrogen. All these species have applications and value as fuels or chemicals. This paper shows a critical analysis of the potential of using anaerobic fermentation by mixed cultures to produce intermediates, e.g. ethanol, acetic, lactic and butyric acid and hydrogen, rather than methane. This paper discusses the current processes to produce these chemicals and compares them with the alternative approach of using open mixed cultures to produce them simultaneously via fermentation from renewable resources. None of these chemicals is currently produced via mixed culture fermentation: ethanol and lactic acid are usually produced in pure culture fermentation using food crops, e.g. corn or sugar cane, as starting materials; hydrogen, acetic and butyric acids are mainly produced via chemical synthesis from fossil fuel derived starting materials. A possible flow-sheet for the production of these chemicals from organic waste using mixed culture fermentation is proposed and the advantages and disadvantages of this process compared to current processes are critically discussed. The paper also discusses the research challenges which need to be addressed to make this process feasible.


Open mixed cultures Ethanol Acetic acid Lactic acid Butyric acid Hydrogen 


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© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Materials and Chemical Engineering Group, School of EngineeringUniversity of AberdeenAberdeenUK

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