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From Smelly to Smiley
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Friday, 18 November 2016 22:23
Helsinki, Finland, November 2016—VTT, a Finnish research center, has developed a solution for converting small sources of methane-rich biogas into raw materials for animal feed or bioplastic on farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants. The emission-reducing solution is based on ability of a certain kind of bacteria to grow on methane in gas fermentors.

Methane-rich biogas is generated worldwide on farms, landfills and wastewater treatment plants in anaerobic digestion of biological material. Until now, the processing of such gas into biomethane has only been viable on large biogas-producing sites; small biogas sources such as farms have remained largely unexploited.

The method developed by VTT would reduce emissions, increase use of biogas and improve protein self-sufficiency.

The process is based on the ability of methanotrophic bacteria to grow in aerobic conditions in gas fermentors, using methane as the source for carbon and energy.

The process is as follows: The methane gas generated by anaerobic digestion is fed into a gas fermentor. A growth medium containing the special bacteria circulates through the pipes of the gas fermentor, creating a single-cell protein biomass with a protein content of around 60%. The cell mass is filtered, pasteurized and dried.

The bacteria and (depending on the growth conditions) cell mass may also contain PHB – a natural substance in the cells that enables them to store conserve energy. For example, PHB can be used as a raw material for biodegradable packaging material, instead of oil-based and non-biodegradable plastics such as polypropylene (PP). The cell mass may contain 50% of the PHB, in which case the protein content is around 30%. Extraction is used to separate the PHB and protein fractions from the dried cell mass.

The production rate of VTT’s method needs to be improved: a couple of years of development work lie ahead. In addition, the protein fraction’s suitability as a feed component needs to be tested.

What’s ahead notwithstanding, and based on previous studies, single-cell proteins produced using micro-organisms can be substituted for ingredients such as meat, soy, egg whites or fish in food and feed. Finland is import-dependent with respect to soy: a fluctuating worldwide crop causes price similar movement and uncertainty about the availability of this foodstuff. In Europe and Finland, attempts are being made to meet the challenge of protein feed for domesticated animals by improving protein self-sufficiency, which involves promoting ways to improve our protein self-sufficiency.

VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland Ltd is the leading research and technology company in the Nordic countries. Their research and knowledge is used to provide expert services for domestic and international customers and partners, and for both private and public sectors. Find VTT in social media: Facebook, LinkedIn, YouTube and Twitter @VTTFinland. 
 
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