The anaerobic conversion of methanol under thermophilic conditions: pH and bicarbonate dependence

P.L. Paulo, G. Villa, J.B. van Lier, G. Lettinga

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The thermophilic (55degreesC) anaerobic conversion of methanol was studied in an unbuffered medium (pH 4 +/- 0.2) and in a phosphate buffered medium (pH 6.4 +/- 0.1), in both cases without bicarbonate addition. Our cultivated sludge consortium was unable to degrade methanol under acidic conditions. During the 160 d of continuous operation of an upflow anaerobic sludge blanket (UASB) reactor (R1), at an organic loading rate (OLR) of 6 gCOD/(l (.) d) and pH around 4, only 5% of the applied methanol load was consumed and no methane (CH4) was detected. However, hydrogenotrophic methanogens were found to be resistant to exposure to such conditions. At the end of the trial, the hydrogenotrophic methanogenic activity of the sludge was 1.23 +/- 0.16 gCOD/(gVSS (.) d) at neutral pH. With methanol as the test substrate, the addition of bicarbonate led to acetate accumulation. A second reactor (R2) was operated for 303 d at OLRs ranging from 5.5 to 25.4 gCOD/(l (.) d) in order to assess the conversion of methanol at neutral pH (phosphate buffered) in a bicarbonate deprived medium. The reactor performance was poor with a methanol-COD removal capacity limited to about 9.5 gCOD/(l (.) d). The system appeared to be quite susceptible to any type of disturbance, even at low OLR. The fraction of methanol-COD converted to CH4 and acetate was found to be unaffected by the OLR applied. At the end of the trial, the outcome of the competition was about 50% methanogenesis and 50% homoacetogenesis.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)213-218
JournalJournal of Bioscience and Bioengineering
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2003


  • kraft pulp-mill
  • waste-water
  • ethanol-production
  • uasb reactors
  • bacteria
  • fermentation
  • digestion
  • acetate
  • sludge
  • methanogenesis

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