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Open Access Research

Selective suppression of bacterial contaminants by process conditions during lignocellulose based yeast fermentations

Eva Albers1, Emma Johansson12, Carl Johan Franzén1 and Christer Larsson1*

Author Affiliations

1 Department Chemical and Biological Engineering, Chalmers University of Technology, 412 96 Gothenburg, Sweden

2 Processum Biorefinery Initiative, 891 80 Örnsköldsvik, Sweden

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2011, 4:59  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-4-59

Published: 20 December 2011

Abstract

Background

Contamination of bacteria in large-scale yeast fermentations is a serious problem and a threat to the development of successful biofuel production plants. Huge research efforts have been spent in order to solve this problem, but additional ways must still be found to keep bacterial contaminants from thriving in these environments. The aim of this project was to develop process conditions that would inhibit bacterial growth while giving yeast a competitive advantage.

Results

Lactic acid bacteria are usually considered to be the most common contaminants in industrial yeast fermentations. Our observations support this view but also suggest that acetic acid bacteria, although not so numerous, could be a much more problematic obstacle to overcome. Acetic acid bacteria showed a capacity to drastically reduce the viability of yeast. In addition, they consumed the previously formed ethanol. Lactic acid bacteria did not show this detrimental effect on yeast viability. It was possible to combat both types of bacteria by a combined addition of NaCl and ethanol to the wood hydrolysate medium used. As a result of NaCl + ethanol additions the amount of viable bacteria decreased and yeast viability was enhanced concomitantly with an increase in ethanol concentration. The successful result obtained via addition of NaCl and ethanol was also confirmed in a real industrial ethanol production plant with its natural inherent yeast/bacterial community.

Conclusions

It is possible to reduce the number of bacteria and offer a selective advantage to yeast by a combined addition of NaCl and ethanol when cultivated in lignocellulosic medium such as wood hydrolysate. However, for optimal results, the concentrations of NaCl + ethanol must be adjusted to suit the challenges offered by each hydrolysate.

Keywords:
ethanol; fermentation; contaminants; bacteria; lignocellulosic; yeast; Saccharomyces