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Pure bacterial strains give better yields when producing H2 than mixed, natural communities. However the main drawback with the pure cultures is the need to perform the fermentations under sterile conditions. Therefore, H2 production using artificial co-cultures, composed of well characterized strains, is one of the directions currently undertaken in the field of biohydrogen research.
Four pure Clostridium cultures, including C. butyricum CWBI1009, C. pasteurianum DSM525, C. beijerinckii DSM1820 and C. felsineum DSM749, and three different co-cultures composed of (1) C. pasteurianum and C. felsineum, (2) C. butyricum and C. felsineum, (3) C. butyricum and C. pasteurianum, were grown in 20L batch bioreactors. In the first part of the study a strategy composed of three-culture sequences was developed to determine the optimal pH for H2 production (sequence 1); and the H2-producing potential of each pure strain and co-culture, during glucose (sequence 2) and starch (sequence 3) fermentations at the optimal pH. The best H2 yields were obtained for starch fermentations, and the highest yield of 2.91molH2/ mol hexose was reported for C. butyricum. By contrast, the biogas production rates were higher for glucose fermentations and the highest value of 1.5L biogas/ h was observed for the co-culture (1). In general co-cultures produced H2 at higher rates than the pure Clostridium cultures, without negatively affecting the H2 yields. Interestingly, all the Clostridium strains and co-cultures were shown to utilize lactate (present in a starch-containing medium), and C. beijerinckii was able to re-consume formate producing additional H2. In the second part of the study the co-culture (3) was used to produce H2 during 13days of glucose fermentation in a sequencing batch reactor (SBR). In addition, the species dynamics, as monitored by qPCR (quantitative real-time PCR), showed a stable coexistence of C. pasteurianum and C. butyricum during this fermentation.
The four pure Clostridium strains and the artificial co-cultures tested in this study were shown to efficiently produce H2 using glucose and starch as carbon sources. The artificial co-cultures produced H2 at higher rates than the pure strains, while the H2 yields were only slightly affected.