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A two year exchange programme on ANAerobic MIXed cultures to study and improve biological generation of chemicals and energy carriers from organic residues generated by agro-industrial activities

Final Report Summary - ANAMIX (A two year exchange programme on ANAerobic MIXed cultures to study and improve biological generation of chemicals and energy carriers from organic residues)

Project context and objectives

The main objective was to build a two-year exchange programme among three of the leading worldwide research groups centred on anaerobic-mixed cultures: Laboratoire de Biotechnologie de l'Environnement (LBE) in France, Technical University of Delft (TUD) in The Netherlands and Advanced Water Management Centre (AWMC) in Australia). More specifically, the project was dedicated towards studying and improving the biological generation of chemicals and energy carriers from organic residues generated by agro-industrial activities.

The effective leveraging of organic residues derived from human activity is of vital importance for establishing a sustainable society. More than 60 % of all organic material obtained from agriculture is indeed currently not made available for the production of chemicals or the generation of energy carriers. These residues include highly complex waste streams like pig manure, as well as more readily degradable mixtures of substrates like molasses, vinasses and wastewaters generated during food processing. Pure culture-based industrial biotechnology is generally not a prosperous route for processing these streams.

The processes we intend to investigate in this project can overcome these limitations because they are based on natural ecosystems. The basic principle of these anaerobic-mixed culture-based processes is to establish the proper process conditions to direct the flow of electrons in a complex network of micro-organisms to the product required. Anaerobic fermentative systems are ideal, as they allow for a minimisation of biomass that can be regarded as an unwanted side-product in these processes. Valuable and realistic products are molecular hydrogen, methane-rich biogas, solvents like ethanol and butanol, or the direct generation of electricity in so-called microbial fuel cells. Many of these can be directly utilised in end-user applications, without further energy input. The scientific challenge in developing these processes was to identify and verify the biochemical driving forces for the establishment of specific production processes in mixed microbial environments.

Overall, the objectives were as follows:

- generate joint research activities in existing research projects by a transfer of information and reciprocal visits;
- enable the use of specific experimental and modelling tools available in one group by researchers from the other groups;
- enhance the professional development of doctoral (PhD) students by intensified interactions with researchers in other groups working on similar topics. This will be established by fully reciprocal visits of both high-level academics and the PhD students.

The project benefited from the funding of several programmes from each institute for financing the experimental part of the exchange scheme: for example, INGECOH (LBE), which was funded by the French National Agency for Research and dedicated to the study of the ecological engineering of microbial ecosystems producing biohydrogen.

As each institution received the funding from both the EU-ANAMIX programme as well as their own specific funding projects, the staff exchanges therefore increased the expertise of each partner in the domain.