Continuous n-valerate formation from propionate and methanol in an anaerobic chain elongation open-culture bioreactor

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Background: Chain elongation forms a new platform technology for the circular production of biobased chemicals from renewable carbon and energy sources. This study aimed to develop a continuous methanol-based chain elongation process for the open-culture production of a new-generation biofuel precursor and potential platform chemical: n-valerate. Propionate was used as a substrate for chain elongation to n-valerate in an anaerobic open-culture bioreactor. In addition, the co-production of n- and iso-butyrate in addition to n-valerate via, respectively, acetate and propionate elongation was investigated. Results: n-Valerate was produced during batch and continuous experiments with a pH in the range 5.5-5.8 and a hydraulic retention time of 95 h. Decreasing the pH from 5.8 to 5.5 caused an increase of the selectivity for n-valerate formation (from 58 up to 70 wt%) during methanol-based propionate elongation. n-Valerate and both n- and iso-butyrate were produced during simultaneous methanol-based elongation of propionate and acetate. Propionate was within the open-culture preferred over acetate as a substrate with 10-30% more consumption. Increasing the methanol concentration in the influent (from 250 to 400 mM) resulted in a higher productivity (from 45 to 58 mmol C/L/day), but a lower relative product selectivity (from 49 to 43 wt%) of n-valerate. The addition of acetate as a substrate did not change the average n-valerate productivities. Within the continuous bioreactor experiments, 6 to 17 wt% of formed products was methane. The microbial community during all steady-states in both methanol-based elongation bioreactors was dominated by species related to Clostridium luticellarii and Candidatus Methanogranum. C. luticellarii is the main candidate for n-valerate formation from methanol and propionate. Conclusions: n-Valerate was for the first time proven to be produced from propionate and methanol by an open-culture bioreactor. Methanogenic activity can be inhibited by decreasing the pH, and the n-valerate productivity can be improved by increasing the methanol concentration. The developed process can be integrated with various biorefinery processes from thermochemical, (bio)electrochemical, photovoltaic and microbial technologies. The findings from this study form a useful tool to steer the process of biological production of chemicals from biomass and other carbon and energy sources.

Original languageEnglish
Article number132
Number of pages16
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 27 May 2019


  • Biobased chemicals
  • Butyrate
  • Chain elongation
  • Methanol
  • Mixed-culture fermentation
  • n-Valerate
  • Open-culture fermentation
  • Selective pressure


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