SLU's knowledge bank

Anaerobic processes provide much more than biogas

Last changed: 22 November 2019

At SLU, we have a globally unique knowledge of anaerobic microorganisms, such as how to use them in various systems and create new products. According to Anna Schnürer, contact for the SLU Biogas Centre, the anaerobic processes can provide much more than biogas.

"The biogas system is built on anaerobic processes that are connected to microorganisms, something that the department has great knowledge and experience of. But the same organisms can also be used for other applications than biogas, and our lab can provide the equipment and skills," says Anna Schnürer, Professor and External Collaboration Specialist at the Department of Molecular Sciences.

SLU Biogas Centre gives skill support

Biogas research competence can be found at several SLU departments and is gathered at the SLU Biogas Centre.

Now, the Department of Molecular Sciences is broadening their activities connected to the development of microbiologically processed biomass, which may lead to new products. The biogas process and its microorganisms then become one of several operational branches.

There are already other projects such as "Waste2Fish", which focuses on developing fish feed, "LipoDrivE", which aims to extract fatty acids from cellulose and use it in different ways, and "OPTUS", which produces bioethanol, biodiesel and biogas from Salix.

Many visits to the lab

Anna also explains that the lab receives many visits from SLU colleagues as well as national and international visitors. The research is a collaboration with others.

"Many think we only know biogas, but our skills are much broader. Our research on anaerobic organisms makes many new systems and products possible – everything from gastro-intestinal issues to biomass conversion processes," remarks Anna.

A well-known project, where anaerobic microorganisms make up an important part, regards rice production. The "climate-friendly rice" project was named one of the primary innovations in the world in 2015 by Popular Science.

Other exciting projects concern reducing methane emissions from cows, understanding the conditions for how methane is formed on Mars and identifying bacteria that break down cellulose in dung beetles.

Unique knowledge of anaerobic microorganisms

"Our knowledge of anaerobic microorganisms is unique. We are known for growing strict anaerobes – not many know how to do that," observes Anna.

Anna even managed to isolate a previously unknown strict anaerobe microorganism when she was a doctoral student. "I named it Clostridium ultunense. So far, it is one of only five known organisms that are syntrophic acetate-oxidising* – and three of those five have been isolated here! We are world-famous for them."

*Syntrophic acetate-oxidising bacteria live on practically no energy at all and are already an important component of biogas reactors, but even more practical applications are being researched.

Copy: Li Gessbo, SLU. Also published in SLU's staff magazine Resurs.