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Research article2019Peer reviewedOpen access

Sulfide level in municipal sludge digesters affects microbial community response to long-chain fatty acid loads

Yekta, Sepehr Shakeri; Liu, Tong; Bjerg, Mette Axelsson; Safaric, Luka; Karlsson, Anna; Bjorn, Annika; Schnurer, Anna


Background Waste lipids are attractive substrates for co-digestion with primary and activated sewage sludge (PASS) to improve biogas production at wastewater treatment plants. However, slow conversion rates of long-chain fatty acids (LCFA), produced during anaerobic digestion (AD), limit the applicability of waste lipids as co-substrates for PASS. Previous observations indicate that the sulfide level in PASS digesters affects the capacity of microbial communities to convert LCFA to biogas. This study assessed the microbial community response to LCFA loads in relation to sulfide level during AD of PASS by investigating process performance and microbial community dynamics upon addition of oleate (C-18:1) and stearate (C-18:0) to PASS digesters at ambient and elevated sulfide levels. Results Conversion of LCFA to biogas was limited (30% of theoretical biogas potential) during continuous co-digestion with PASS, which resulted in further LCFA accumulation. However, the accumulated LCFA were converted to biogas (up to 66% of theoretical biogas potential) during subsequent batch-mode digestion, performed without additional substrate load. Elevated sulfide level stimulated oleate (but not stearate) conversion to acetate, but oleate and sulfide imposed a synergistic limiting effect on acetoclastic methanogenesis and biogas formation. Next-generation sequencing of 16S rRNA gene amplicons of bacteria and archaea showed that differences in sulfide level and LCFA type resulted in microbial community alterations with distinctly different patterns. Taxonomic profiling of the sequencing data revealed that the phylum Cloacimonetes is likely a key group during LCFA degradation in PASS digesters, where different members take part in degradation of saturated and unsaturated LCFA; genus W5 (family Cloacimonadaceae) and family W27 (order Cloacimonadales), respectively. In addition, LCFA-degrading Syntrophomonas, which is commonly present in lipid-fed digesters, increased in relative abundance after addition of oleate at elevated sulfide level, but not without sulfide or after stearate addition. Stearate conversion to biogas was instead associated with increasing abundance of hydrogen-producing Smithella and hydrogenotrophic Methanobacterium. Conclusions Long-chain fatty acid chain saturation and sulfide level are selective drivers for establishment of LCFA-degrading microbial communities in municipal sludge digesters.


Anaerobic digestion; Primary and activated sewage sludge; Oleate; Stearate; Sulfide; 16S rRNA gene amplicon sequencing

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Biotechnology for Biofuels
2019, Volume: 12, number: 1, article number: 259

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