Synthesis of polyhydroxyalkanoates in municipal wastewater treatment

Erik R. Coats, Frank J. Loge, Michael P. Wolcott, Karl Englund, Armando G. McDonald

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

78 Scopus citations


Biologically derived polyesters known as polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) represent a potentially "sustainable" replacement to fossil-fuel-based thermoplastics. However, current commercial practices that produce PHA with pure microbial cultures grown on renewable, but refined, feedstocks (i.e., glucose) under sterile conditions do not represent a sustainable commodity. Here, we report on PHA production with a mixed microbial consortium indigenous to an activated sludge process on carbon present in municipal wastewaters. Reactors operated under anaerobic/aerobic and aerobic-only mode and fed primary solids fermenter liquor maintained a mixed microbial consortium capable of synthesizing PHA at 10 to 25% (w/w), while reducing soluble COD by approximately 62 to 71%. More critically, an aerobic batch reactor seeded from the anaerobic/aerobic reactor and fed fermenter liquor achieved approximately 53% PHA (w/w). Results presented suggest that environmentally benign production of biodegradable polymers is feasible. We further used PHA-rich biomass to produce a natural fiber-reinforced thermoplastic composite that can be used to offset advanced wastewater treatment costs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2396-2403
Number of pages8
JournalWater Environment Research
Issue number12
StatePublished - Nov 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Environmental Chemistry
  • Ecological Modeling
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Waste Management and Disposal
  • Pollution


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