Influence of environmental conditions on accumulated polyhydroxybutyrate in municipal activated sludge

R. Pei*, N. Tarek-Bahgat, M. C.M. Van Loosdrecht, R. Kleerebezem, A. G. Werker

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleScientificpeer-review

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Poly(3-hydroxybutyrate) (PHB) was accumulated in full-scale municipal waste activated sludge at pilot scale. After accumulation, the fate of the PHB-rich biomass was evaluated over two weeks as a function of initial pH (5.5, 7.0 and 10), and incubation temperature (25, 37 and 55 °C), with or without aeration. PHB became consumed under aerobic conditions as expected with first order rate constants in the range of 0.19 to 0.55 d−1. Under anaerobic conditions, up to 63 percent of the PHB became consumed within the first day (initial pH 7, 55 °C). Subsequently, with continued anaerobic conditions, the polymer content remained stable in the biomass. Degradation rates were lower for acidic anaerobic incubation conditions at a lower temperature (25 °C). Polymer thermal properties were measured in the dried PHB-rich biomass and for the polymer recovered by solvent extraction using dimethyl carbonate. PHB quality changes in dried biomass, indicated by differences in polymer melt enthalpy, correlated to differences in the extent of PHB extractability. Differences in the expressed PHB-in-biomass melt enthalpy that correlated to the polymer extractability suggested that yields of polymer recovery by extraction can be influenced by the state or quality of the polymer generated during downstream processing. Different post-accumulation process biomass management environments were found to influence the polymer quality and can also influence the extraction of non-polymer biomass. An acidic post-accumulation environment resulted in higher melt enthalpies in the biomass and, consequently, higher extraction efficiencies. Overall, acidic environmental conditions were found to be favourable for preserving both quantity and quality after PHB accumulation in activated sludge.

Original languageEnglish
Article number119653
Number of pages10
JournalWater Research
Publication statusPublished - 2023


  • Biopolymer
  • Downstream processing
  • Poly(3-hydroxybutyrate)(PHB)
  • Polyhydroxyalkanoate (PHA)
  • Polymer properties
  • Waste activated sludge


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