Researchers have developed a bioprocess that successfully converts acid whey, a common dairy byproduct without the use of additional chemicals.
Acid whey is the wastewater remaining after milk has been curdled and strained. Every liter of milk that is used in the process of milk products produces another two liters of acid whey in the dairy factory.
But, the immediately resulted in wastewater after this process contains high levels of acid which cannot be fed to animals in large quantities due to its acidity. This wastewater is rich in organic material like lactose and factory owners utilize the wastewater as fertilizer or treated.
The new process developed by the professor Lars Angenent from the Center of Applied Geosciences at the University of Tübingen and international colleagues involves exposing the wastewater to bacteria, running the wastewater through a reactor microbiome.
The new bio-oil can be offered as feed for animals or after further refinement it can be used even as a fuel for airplanes. The research’s results were published in Joule, a new premier journal from CellPress.
Lars Angenent performed a research on the process of converting these large volumes of wastewater into valuable products. Angenent used a tank with many different types of bacteria, called a reactor microbiome. He explained, “This microbiome is an open culture, which means bacteria from the outside environment can also enter and grow, similar to our gut microbiome. No sterilization of the tank or wastewater is necessary.” Using the process called chain elongation; the bacteria are selected and tricked to extend the carbon backbone of chemicals.
The microbiome performs chain elongation process until a product is formed with six to nine carbons in a row. This newly treated product could be utilized as an antimicrobial for animals or it can be further processed in a refinery into aviation fuel.
The variation of the research is that no other carbon-rich chemicals were used in the process and it only requires the wastewater. Researchers are planning for further research to determine whether other types of wastewater beyond the dairy industry can be treated with the same process.