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Research

Resource Efficiency in Food Processing

 

Analysis of anaerobic digestion microbial communities

Production of gaseous biofuels using anaerobic digestion can offer combined waste management and renewable energy generation in food processing facilities. Our work investigates how digester microbial communities respond ecologically to various stresses, such as low moisture content, varied feedstocks, and inhibitor contamination. Ultimately, this knowledge will be used to design digester communities with improved functionality and stability.

EPA P3 Logo

Deconstruction of lignocellulosic food processing residues for biofuel production

Releasing fermentable sugars from lignocellulosic food processing residues is a major hurdle to their use as biofuel feedstocks. Our research investigates methods to effectively deconstruct lignocellulosic food processing into substrates that are compatible with existing biofuel fermentation pipelines. This includes pretreatment of food processing residues to disrupt their lignocellulose structure and improve digestibility to fermentable sugars. Moreover, we probe natural microbial communities to discover microorganisms that produce enzymes that a particularly effective in breaking down lignocellulose in food processing residues.

Microbial desalination of wastewater

Food processing generates many organic compound-rich wastewater streams. Bacteria can oxidize these waste-derived organic compounds generate electricity in the process via microbial fuel cells. Applications include sustainable wastewater solutions for the dairy, fruit, and vegetable processors of California. Our work seeks to improve the performance of microbial fuel cells using food processing waste streams as feedstock. Furthermore, we are researching ways to translate an offshoot of the microbial fuel cell, the microbial desalination cell, to the food processing industry to enable water desalination via waste streams produced at these facilities.

Ryan dowdy fuel cell

 

Bio-solarization

Bio-solarization reactors - anaerobicBio-solarization reactors - aerobic

Improving solarization (a soil treatment technique) by investigating the possibilities of utilizing food waste and compost for soil heating that prevents the growing of soil borne pathogens, nematodes, and weeds in the field, and hence reduces the need for soil fumigation with synthetic chemicals.