Date of Award:


Document Type:


Degree Name:

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Biological and Irrigation Engineering


Dr. Charles Miller


Dr. Ron Sims


Global energy requirements are heavily dependent on fossil fuels such as oil, coal, and natural gas. With the expectation of fossil fuels being exhausted in the future, novel strategies need to be discovered for alternative energy generation. Biofuels such as acetone, butanol, ethanol, and hydrogen gas are gaining interest as high value energy sources. These fuels can be produced by anaerobic clostridia as metabolic byproducts of fermentation. The capability to produce these biofuels has been widely studied using glucose or other common feedstocks. Biofuels from renewable and industrial waste feedstocks such as algae and cheese whey may have significant implications on the efficiency of biofuel production, where the price associated with feedstocks is considered a major bottleneck in biotechnology processes. Algae and cheese whey are both rich in organic nutrients and can be utilized by clostridia to produce not only biofuels, but also bioacids, which are considered fuel intermediate compounds. Additionally, understanding microbial communities both in the biosphere and within bioreactors can provide knowledge on microbial relationships and novel microbes, and provide knowledge to optimize engineered systems for biofuels and bioremediation strategies.

In this study, a comprehensive investigation of the Logan City Wastewater Lagoon System at the microbial level was executed. Microalgae were utilized for the production of acetone, butanol, and ethanol using Clostridium saccharoperbutylacetonicum. High-throughput 454 pyrosequencing technology was utilized to understand the biogas-producing microbial consortium within an algal-fed anaerobic digester inoculated with lagoon sludge. This technology platform was also utilized to study the microbial diversity of a municipal waste remediating community while probing for clostridia capable of producing biofuels. Bioproduct producing clostridia from this system were isolated and employed using cheese whey as feedstock for the production of hydrogen, ethanol, acetic acid, butyric acid, and lactic acid.

Integrating fundamental science with engineering strategies was demonstrated using this lagoon system. To optimize and fully understand and manage anaerobic microbial systems, an understanding of their phylogeny and their capabilities are vital for success at the industrial level for the production of high value bioproducts.