Biorefinery of cellulosic primary sludge towards targeted Short Chain Fatty Acids, phosphorus and methane recovery

Dafne Crutchik, Nicola Frison, Anna Laura Eusebi, Francesco Fatone

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

62 Scopus citations


Cellulose from used toilet paper is a major untapped resource embedded in municipal wastewater which recovery and valorization to valuable products can be optimized. Cellulosic primary sludge (CPS) can be separated by upstream dynamic sieving and anaerobically digested to recover methane as much as 4.02 m3/capita·year. On the other hand, optimal acidogenic fermenting conditions of CPS allows the production of targeted short-chain fatty acids (SCFAs) as much as 2.92 kg COD/capita·year. Here propionate content can be more than 30% and can optimize the enhanced biological phosphorus removal (EBPR) processes or the higher valuable co-polymer of polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs). In this work, first a full set of batch assays were used at three different temperatures (37, 55 and 70 °C) and three different initial pH (8, 9 and 10) to identify the best conditions for optimizing both the total SCFAs and propionate content from CPS fermentation. Then, the optimal conditions were applied in long term to a Sequencing Batch Fermentation Reactor where the highest propionate production (100–120 mg COD/g TVSfed·d) was obtained at 37 °C and adjusting the feeding pH at 8. This was attributed to the higher hydrolysis efficiency of the cellulosic materials (up to 44%), which increased the selective growth of Propionibacterium acidopropionici in the fermentation broth up to 34%. At the same time, around 88% of the phosphorus released during the acidogenic fermentation was recovered as much as 0.15 kg of struvite per capita·year. Finally, the potential market value was preliminary estimated for the recovered materials that can triple over the conventional scenario of biogas recovery in existing municipal wastewater treatment plants.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)112-119
Number of pages8
JournalWater Research
StatePublished - 1 Jun 2018
Externally publishedYes


  • Acidogenic fermentation
  • Cellulosic primary sludge
  • Propionate
  • Resource recovery
  • Struvite


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