American Chemical Society
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A Novel Sustainable and Self-Sufficient Biotechnological Strategy for Directly Transforming Sewage Sludge into High-Value Liquid Biochemicals

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journal contribution
posted on 2024-07-02, 09:29 authored by Chen Wang, Wei Wei, Lan Wu, Yun Wang, Xiaohu Dai, Bing-Jie Ni
Sewage sludge, as a carbon-rich byproduct of wastewater treatment, holds significant untapped potential as a renewable resource. Upcycling this troublesome waste stream represents great promise in addressing global escalating energy demands through its wide practice of biochemical recovery concurrently. Here, we propose a biotechnological concept to gain value-added liquid bioproducts from sewage sludge in a self-sufficient manner by directly transforming sludge into medium-chain fatty acids (MCFAs). Our findings suggest that yeast, a cheap and readily available commercial powder, would involve ethanol-type fermentation in chain elongation to achieve abundant MCFA production from sewage sludge using electron donors (i.e., ethanol) and acceptors (i.e., short-chain fatty acids) produced in situ. The enhanced abundance and transcriptional activity of genes related to key enzymes, such as butyryl-CoA dehydrogenase and alcohol dehydrogenase, affirm the robust capacity for the self-sustained production of MCFAs. This is indicative of an effective metabolic network established between yeast and anaerobic microorganisms within this innovative sludge fermentation framework. Furthermore, life cycle assessment and techno-economic analysis evidence the sustainability and economic competitiveness of this biotechnological strategy. Overall, this work provides insights into sewage sludge upgrading independent of additional carbon input, which can be applied in existing anaerobic sludge fermentation infrastructure as well as to develop new applications in a diverse range of industries.