Mesophilic Fermentative Hydrogen Production from Biomass

  • Ines Hussy

    Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis


    Hydrogen is considered a possible alternative to fossil fuels. Hydrogen can be produced through dark fermentation with 1 mol hexose yielding a maximum of 4 mol hydrogen in association with acetate production, and 2 mol hydrogen in association with butyrate production. However, an economically and technically feasible process is yet to be established. So far research into fermentative hydrogen production has focused on pure and soluble carbohydrates, particularly glucose. To reduce substrate costs, use of more complex low-cost co- and waste products of the food industry or biomass crops which have undergone minimum pre-treatment would be desirable. Also, whilst much research to date has focused on use of pure bacterial strains, an easily obtainable mixed microflora would be preferable to avoid costs of substrate sterilisation.

    Therefore this research project focused on fermentative hydrogen production from three abundant (in the UK) low cost substrates, namely a wheat starch co-product, sugarbeet and perennial ryegrass. Anaerobic digester sludge obtained from the local sewage works was used as inoculum in a continuously stirred tank reactor. Production of hydrogen and other fermentation products was measured to gain information about the main metabolic pathways used. To lower hydrogen partial pressure the reactor was sparged with nitrogen and the effect on hydrogen production observed.

    It was demonstrated that stable fermentative hydrogen production from the wheat starch co-product and sugarbeet water extract was possible in continuous operation. Hydrogen production from grass extract was demonstrated in batch mode. Sparging with nitrogen significantly increased hydrogen yields, by 46% for the wheat starch co-product, by 67% for sugarbeet water extract, and by 184% for ryegrass extract. Maximum yields achieved were 1.9 mol hydrogen per mol hexose converted for 16 days on starch, 1.7 mol per mol hexose converted for 5 days on sugarbeet water extract and 0.8 mol hydrogen per mol hexose converted in batch from grass extract. Therefore up to 48% of the maximum
    theoretical hydrogen yield was produced. Various factors were identified as preventing higher hydrogen yields. Hydrogen production was more closely related to butyrate than acetate concentration. Also, lactate, ethanol and propionate, which are products of carbohydrate fermenting metabolic pathways that do not produce hydrogen, were detected, as were signs of hydrogen consuming homoacetogenesis in continuous operation.
    Date of AwardMay 2005
    Original languageEnglish


    • Hydrogen as fuel

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