Carboxylates and alcohols production in an autotrophic hydrogen-based membrane biofilm reactor

Diana C. Calvo, Aura Ontiveros-Valencia, Rosa Krajmalnik-Brown, Cesar I. Torres, Bruce E. Rittmann

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

9 Scopus citations


Microbiological conversion of CO2 into biofuels and/or organic industrial feedstock is an excellent carbon-cycling strategy. Here, autotrophic anaerobic bacteria in the membrane biofilm reactor (MBfR) transferred electrons from hydrogen gas (H2) to inorganic carbon (IC) and produced organic acids and alcohols. We systematically varied the H2-delivery, the IC concentration, and the hydraulic retention time in the MBfR. The relative availability of H2 versus IC was the determining factor for enabling microbial chain elongation (MCE). When the H2:IC mole ratio was high (>2.0 mol H2/mol C), MCE was an important process, generating medium-chain carboxylates up to octanoate (C8, 9.1 ± 1.3 mM C and 28.1 ± 4.1 mmol C m−2 d−1). Conversely, products with two carbons were the only ones present when the H2:IC ratio was low (<2.0 mol H2/mol C), so that H2 was the limiting factor. The biofilm microbial community was enriched in phylotypes most similar to the well-known acetogen Acetobacterium for all conditions tested, but phylotypes closely related with families capable of MCE (e.g., Bacteroidales, Rhodocyclaceae, Alcaligenaceae, Thermoanaerobacteriales, and Erysipelotrichaceae) became important when the H2:IC ratio was high. Thus, proper management of IC availability and H2 supply allowed control over community structure and function, reflected by the chain length of the carboxylates and alcohols produced in the MBfR.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2338-2347
Number of pages10
JournalBiotechnology and bioengineering
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2021


  • alcohols production
  • autotrophic anaerobic bacteria
  • biofuel precursors
  • carboxylates production
  • membrane biofilm reactor
  • microbial chain elongation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Biotechnology
  • Bioengineering
  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology


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