High-rate and -yield continuous fluidized-bed bioconversion of glucose-to-gluconic acid for enhanced metal leaching

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Abstract

Continuous low-cost bulk biolixiviant production remains as one of the main challenges of heterotrophic bioleaching towards large scale application. This study aimed at developing non-aseptic Gluconobacter oxydans-amended fluidized-bed reactor (FBR) process for continuous production of gluconic acid for efficient leaching of rare earth elements (REEs) and base metals from spent nickel-metal-hydride (NiMH) batteries. In preliminary experiments, the FBR became contaminated and massively overgrown by air-borne fungus, Leptobacillium leptobactrum. In a series of batch bioassays, operational conditions were investigated to discourage the fungal activity i.e., an ecologically engineered niche for gluconic acid production. High gluconate concentration (≥100 g/l) and/or low pH (≤2.5) gave a selective preference for G. oxydans growth over L. leptobactrum and controlled the activity of possible contaminants during FBR continuous operation. The highest gluconic acid production rate of 390 g/l∙d with corresponding glucose-to-gluconic acid conversion yield of 94% was obtained at hydraulic retention time (HRT) of 6.3 h and 380 g/l∙d glucose loading rate. Using the FBR effluents as leaching agents, respectively, total base metals and REEs leaching yields of up to 82% and 55% were achieved within 7 days at 1% (w/v) spent battery pulp density. The obtained glucose-to-gluconic acid conversion rates and yields were one of the highest reported for any glucose biotransformation process. The REE leaching yields were higher than those reported for similar high metal-grade REE secondary sources. The high-rate glucose-to-gluconic acid bioconversion in the non-aseptic system utilizing microbial ecology based FBR operation strategy rather than aseptic chemostats indicates industrial feasibility of gluconic acid production and thus, the applicability of heterotrophic bioleaching.
Original languageEnglish
Article number142088
JournalChemical Engineering Journal
Volume462
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2023
Publication typeA1 Journal article-refereed

Keywords

  • Fluidized-bed bioreactor
  • Gluconobacter oxydans
  • Leptobacillium leptobactrum
  • Non-aseptic
  • Rare earth elements
  • Spent battery recycling

Publication forum classification

  • Publication forum level 3

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