Microbial network for waste activated sludge cascade utilization in an integrated system of microbial electrolysis and anaerobic fermentation

Wenzong Liu, Zhangwei He, Chunxue Yang, Aijuan Zhou, Zechong Guo, Bin Liang, Cristiano Varrone, Ai‑Jie Wang

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Background: Bioelectrochemical systems have been considered a promising novel technology that shows an enhanced energy recovery, as well as generation of value-added products. A number of recent studies suggested that an enhancement of carbon conversion and biogas production can be achieved in an integrated system of microbial electrolysis cell (MEC) and anaerobic digestion (AD) for waste activated sludge (WAS). Microbial communities in integrated system would build a thorough energetic and metabolic interaction network regarding fermentation communities and electrode respiring communities. The characterization of integrated community structure and community shifts is not well understood, however, it starts to attract interest of scientists and engineers. Results: In the present work, energy recovery and WAS conversion are comprehensively affected by typical pretreated biosolid characteristics. We investigated the interaction of fermentation communities and electrode respiring communities in an integrated system of WAS fermentation and MEC for hydrogen recovery. A high energy recovery was achieved in the MECs feeding WAS fermentation liquid through alkaline pretreatment. Some anaerobes belonging to Firmicutes (Acetoanaerobium, Acetobacterium, and Fusibacter) showed synergistic relationship with exoelectrogensin the degradation of complex organic matter or recycling of MEC products (H2). High protein and polysaccharide but low fatty acid content led to the dominance of Proteiniclasticum and Parabacteroides, which showed a delayed contribution to the extracellular electron transport leading to a slow cascade utilization of WAS. Conclusions: Efficient pretreatment could supply more short-chain fatty acids and higher conductivities in the fermentative liquid, which facilitated mass transfer in anodic biofilm. The overall performance of WAS cascade utilization was substantially related to the microbial community structures, which in turn depended on the initial pretreatment to enhance WAS fermentation. It is worth noting that species in AD and MEC communities are able to build complex networks of interaction, which have not been sufficiently studied so far. It is therefore important to understand how choosing operational parameters can influence reactor performances. The current study highlights the interaction offermentative bacteria and exoelectrogens in the integrated system.
Original languageEnglish
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number83
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 2016

Bibliographical note

© 2016 Liu et al. This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (http:// creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/), which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver (http://creativecommons.org/publicdomain/
zero/1.0/) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.


  • Anaerobic digestion
  • Microbial electrolysis cell
  • Biogas
  • Waste activated sludge

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