Microbial community composition and reactor performance during hydrogen production in a UASB reactor fed with raw cheese whey inoculated with compost

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This study investigated the microbial community developed in a UASB reactor for hydrogen production and correlated it to reactor performance. The reactor was inoculated with kitchen waste compost and fed with raw cheese whey at two organic loading rates, 20 gCOD/Ld and 30 gCOD/Ld. Hydrogen production was very variable, using an OLR of 30 gCOD/Ld averaged 1.0 LH2/Ld with no methane produced under these conditions. The hydrogen yield was also very variable and far from the theoretical. This low yield could be explained by selection of a mixed fermentative population with presence of hydrogen producing organisms (Clostridium, Ruminococcus and Enterobacter) and other non-hydrogen producing fermenters (Lactobacillus, Dialister and Prevotella). The molecular analysis of the raw cheese whey used for feeding revealed the presence of three predominant organisms that are affiliated with the genera Buttiauxella (a low-yield hydrogen producer) and Streptococcus (a lactic acid-producing fermenter). Although these organisms did not persist in the reactor, the continuous addition of these fermenters could decrease the reactor's hydrogen yield.

Keywords: bio-hydrogen, cheese whey treatment, microbial community structure

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