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Open Access Research

Photo-fermentative bacteria aggregation triggered by L-cysteine during hydrogen production

Guo-Jun Xie, Bing-Feng Liu*, De-Feng Xing, Jun Nan, Jie Ding and Nan-Qi Ren*

Author Affiliations

State Key Laboratory of Urban Water Resource and Environment, Harbin Institute of Technology, 73 Huanghe Road, P.O. Box 2614, Harbin, 150090, China

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Biotechnology for Biofuels 2013, 6:64  doi:10.1186/1754-6834-6-64

Published: 3 May 2013



Hydrogen recovered from organic wastes and solar energy by photo-fermentative bacteria (PFB) has been suggested as a promising bioenergy strategy. However, the use of PFB for hydrogen production generally suffers from a serious biomass washout from photobioreactor, due to poor flocculation of PFB. In the continuous operation, PFB cells cannot be efficiently separated from supernatant and rush out with effluent from reactor continuously, which increased the effluent turbidity, meanwhile led to increases in pollutants. Moreover, to replenish the biomass washout, substrate was continuously utilized for cell growth rather than hydrogen production. Consequently, the poor flocculability not only deteriorated the effluent quality, but also decreased the potential yield of hydrogen from substrate. Therefore, enhancing the flocculability of PFB is urgent necessary to further develop photo-fermentative process.


Here, we demonstrated that L-cysteine could improve hydrogen production of Rhodopseudomonas faecalis RLD-53, and more importantly, simultaneously trigger remarkable aggregation of PFB. Experiments showed that L-cysteine greatly promoted the production of extracellular polymeric substances, especially secretion of protein containing more disulfide bonds, and help for enhancement stability of floc of PFB. Through formation of disulfide bonds, L-cysteine not only promoted production of EPS, in particular the secretion of protein, but also stabilized the final confirmation of protein in EPS. In addition, the cell surface elements and functional groups, especially surface charged groups, have also been changed by L-cysteine. Consequently, absolute zeta potential reached a minimum value at 1.0 g/l of L-cysteine, which obviously decreased electrostatic repulsion interaction energy based on DLVO theory. Total interaction energy barrier decreased from 389.77 KT at 0.0 g/l of L-cysteine to 127.21 kT at 1.0 g/l.


Thus, the strain RLD-53 overcame the total energy barrier and flocculated effectively. After a short settlement, the biomass rush out will be significantly reduced and the effluent quality will be greatly improved in the continuous operation. Furthermore, aggregation of PFB could enable high biomass hold-up of photobioreactor, which allows the photobioreactor to operate at low hydraulic retention time and high organic loading rate. Therefore, the described flocculation behaviour during photo-hydrogen production is potentially suitable for practicable application.

Bioflocculation; Photo-hydrogen production; L-Cysteine; Extracellular polymeric substances; Disulfide bonds; DLVO