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Research article2012Peer reviewedOpen access

Bioaugmentation of Syntrophic Acetate-Oxidizing Culture in Biogas Reactors Exposed to Increasing Levels of Ammonia

Westerholm, Maria; Leven, Lotta; Schnürer, Anna


The importance of syntrophic acetate oxidation for process stability in methanogenic systems operating at high ammonia concentrations has previously been emphasized. In this study we investigated bioaugmentation of syntrophic acetate-oxidizing (SAO) cultures as a possible method for decreasing the adaptation period of biogas reactors operating at gradually increased ammonia concentrations (1.5 to 11 g NH4+-N/liter). Whole stillage and cattle manure were codigested semicontinuously for about 460 days in four mesophilic anaerobic laboratory-scale reactors, and a fixed volume of SAO culture was added daily to two of the reactors. Reactor performance was evaluated in terms of biogas productivity, methane content, pH, alkalinity, and volatile fatty acid (VFA) content. The decomposition pathway of acetate was analyzed by isotopic tracer experiments, and population dynamics were monitored by quantitative PCR analyses. A shift in dominance from aceticlastic methanogenesis to SAO occurred simultaneously in all reactors, indicating no influence by bioaugmentation on the prevailing pathway. Higher abundances of Clostridium ultunense and Tepidanaerobacter acetatoxydans were associated with bioaugmentation, but no influence on Syntrophaceticus schinkii or the methanogenic population was distinguished. Overloading or accumulation of VFA did not cause notable dynamic effects on the population. Instead, the ammonia concentration had a substantial impact on the abundance level of the microorganisms surveyed. The addition of SAO culture did not affect process performance or stability against ammonia inhibition, and all four reactors deteriorated at high ammonia concentrations. Consequently, these findings further demonstrate the strong influence of ammonia on the methane-producing consortia and on the representative methanization pathway in mesophilic biogas reactors.

Published in

Applied and Environmental Microbiology
2012, Volume: 78, number: 21, pages: 7619-7625