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Open access

Martin Koller and Gerhart Braunegg

Abstract

Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA), the only group of “bioplastics” sensu stricto, are accumulated by various prokaryotes as intracellular “carbonosomes”. When exposed to exogenous stress or starvation, presence of these microbial polyoxoesters of hydroxyalkanoates assists microbes to survive.

“Bioplastics” such as PHA must be competitive with petrochemically manufactured plastics both in terms of material quality and manufacturing economics. Cost-effectiveness calculations clearly show that PHA production costs, in addition to bioreactor equipment and downstream technology, are mainly due to raw material costs. The reason for this is PHA production on an industrial scale currently relying on expensive, nutritionally relevant “1st-generation feedstocks”, such as like glucose, starch or edible oils. As a way out, carbon-rich industrial waste streams (“2nd-generation feedstocks”) can be used that are not in competition with the supply of food; this strategy not only reduces PHA production costs, but can also make a significant contribution to safeguarding food supplies in various disadvantaged parts of the world. This approach increases the economics of PHA production, improves the sustainability of the entire lifecycle of these materials, and makes them unassailable from an ethical perspective.

In this context, our EU-funded projects ANIMPOL and WHEYPOL, carried out by collaborative consortia of academic and industrial partners, successfully developed PHA production processes, which resort to waste streams amply available in Europe. As real 2nd-generation feedstocks”, waste lipids and crude glycerol from animal-processing and biodiesel industry, and surplus whey from dairy and cheese making industry were used in these processes. Cost estimations made by our project partners determine PHA production prices below 3 € (WHEYPOL) and even less than 2 € (ANIMPOL), respectively, per kg; these values already reach the benchmark of economic feasibility.

The presented studies clearly show that the use of selected high-carbon waste streams of (agro)industrial origin contributes significantly to the cost-effectiveness and sustainability of PHA biopolyester production on an industrial scale.

Open access

Martin Koller, Denis Vadlja, Gerhart Braunegg, Aid Atlić and Predrag Horvat

Abstract

Competitive polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHAs) production requires progress in microbial strain performance, feedstock selection, downstream processing, and more importantly according to the process design with process kinetics of the microbial growth phase and the phase of product formation. The multistage continuous production in a bioreactor cascade was described for the first time in a continuously operated, flexible five-stage bioreactor cascade that mimics the characteristics involved in the engineering process of tubular plug flow reactors. This process was developed and used for Cupriavidus necator-mediated PHA production at high volumetric and specific PHA productivity (up to 2.31 g/(Lh) and 0.105 g/(gh), respectively). Based on the experimental data, formal kinetic and high structured kinetic models were established, accompanied by footprint area analysis of binary imaged cells. As a result of the study, there has been an enhanced understanding of the long-term continuous PHA production under balanced, transient, and nutrient-deficient conditions that was achieved on both the micro and the macro kinetic level. It can also be concluded that there were novel insights into the complex metabolic occurrences that developed during the multistage- continuous production of PHA as a secondary metabolite. This development was essential in paving the way for further process improvement. At the same time, a new method of specific growth rate and specific production rate based on footprint area analysis was established by using the electron microscope.