Research team

Sustainable Energy, Air and Water Technology (DuEL)

Expertise

In general: • Biological wastewater treatment • Resource recovery and reuse • Sustainable water treatment technology • Cleantech and environmental technology • Microbial biotechnology More specifically: • Microbial cleantech for a sustainable water cycle and food production chain • Nutrient removal and recovery • Microbial technology for resource-efficient nutrient management • Regenerative life support systems (RLSS) for human spaceflight More detailed: "Clean, safe and cost-efficient" • Sustainable: resource efficient, low or positive in energy, minimum emission of greenhouse gases (e.g. N2O) • Low in undesirable trace contaminants/emerging pollutants • Mass/substance flow analysis (MFA/SFA), life cycle analysis (LCA), techno-economic assessment (TEA) "Microbial technology" • Nitrogen removal: mainstream and sidestream partial nitritation/anammox, nitritation/denitritation, S-based denitrification, thermophilic nitrification/denitrification, thermophilic anammox • Carbon capture: organics (high-rate activated sludge) and and CO2 (phototrophs) • Energy-positive sewage treatment • Production of liquid nitrate-based fertilizers through nitrification • Production of microbial protein for feed and food (single-cell protein) and slow-release fertilizers: microalgae, purple bacteria, aerobic heterotrophs • High-rate composting and delignification "To recover resources or treat waste and side streams, or to produce from renewable resources" • Cities (sewage, urine, black water), industry, agriculture (e.g. manure), aquaculture • Applications on Earth and in Space (regenerative life support systems, RLSS)

PurpleSky: Unlocking the genomic potential of purple bacteria for microbial food production on H2 and CO2-derived compounds. 01/10/2021 - 30/09/2024

Abstract

Transforming the agriculture-based food system is urgently needed to sustainably feed the fast-growing world population. Microbial biomass production for human nutrition i.e. microbial protein provides a solution, particularly when produced on renewable H2 and CO2-derived compounds (e.g. CH4, CH3OH, HCOOH). Purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB) are nutritionally appealing for photoheterotrophic protein production, as shown in our previous research. Despite being metabolic versatility champions, growth and nutritional quality of PNSB grown for aerobic or phototrophic hydrogen- or methylotrophy remains largely unexplored. PurpleSky's overall objective is to elucidate the use of H2 and C1 compounds for PNSB and steer towards nutritious biomass through a unique genome-scale computational approach. The project will pioneer in isolating new PNSB specialists on H2 and C1 compounds. Known and new strains will be tested in-silico for targeted nutritional quality tuning, based on genome-scale metabolic models and flux balance analyses. This mechanism-driven approach will enable to efficiently select best parameter and strain combinations for experimental validation. Finally, bioreactor proofs of concept for aerobic and phototrophic growth will be set up to explore how feeding strategy and photoperiod shape the nutritional quality. PurpleSky's mechanism-driven approach for nutritious microbial protein production is novel and a vital step forward for land- and fossil-free PNSB production.

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Enviromics - Integrated Technologies in EcoSystems 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2026

Abstract

Enviromics is a multidisciplinary consortium of UAntwerpen researchers across the board of environmental sciences and technologies. Through impactful fundamental advances and interdisciplinary approaches across biology, (bio)chemistry and (bio)engineering, the consortium offers bio based solutions to ecosystem challenges by a strong interaction between three pillars (i) Environmental applications and nature based solutions, (ii) Sensing and analysis of chemicals and environments and (iii) Microbial technology and biomaterials, supported by sustainable product development and technology assessment. Through a renewed and tighter focus the ENVIROMICS consortium now signs for a leaner and more dynamic shape. Through intensified collaborations with different stakeholders, both national and international, the leverage for creating enhanced business and societal impact is reinforced. The consortium is strongly managed by a team of two highly profiled researchers partnered by an IOF manager and a project manager with clearly defined tasks and in close contact with the consortium members and the central Valorisation Unit of the university. The consortium has a strong and growing IP position, mainly on environmental/electrochemical sensing and microbial probiotics, two key points of the research and applications program. One spinoff was created in 2017 and two more will be setup in the coming three years. The direct interaction with product developers ensures delivering high TRL products. Next to a growing portfolio of industrial contracts, we create tangible societal impact, when relevant including citizen science approaches. Through the stronger leverage created by the new structure and partnerships we will develop both intertwined branches significantly.

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MicroCoCoNut: Microbial community control for nutritional protein. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2022

Abstract

Microbial protein is an alternative and sustainable source of protein in animal feed and human food. In this project, a novel production method for microbial protein is investigated on effluents from the food and beverage sector. Previous research for instance demonstrated excellent replacement potential of unsustainable protein sources in aquafeeds. Microbial community control tools will be developed, along with their automation, to optimize the nutritional quality of the biomass. Additionally, with drying as one of the larger cost items, research will optimize drying conditions and explore alternative downstream processing. The project will yield biotechnology to produce a costefficient high-quality microbial protein, facilitating access to the animal feed market. The animal husbandry sector is in urgent demand for alternative protein sources, and several valorization routes are possible, for instance based on licensing to food and beverage companies and/or wastewater technology firms.

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WaterREACT (Water Reuse and Exchange Advanced Computational Tool): A decision support tool for planning circular water use in industry. 01/01/2021 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Globally we are facing severe water stress and security challenges due to more frequent and serious droughts combined with increasing water demand by society. Industrial activities play a key role in societal water demand, while also frequently being the first to be affected by water shortages. For example, in the region of Flanders (Belgium), nearly a quarter of the gross value added is generated by industrial activities. Flanders is, however, also extremely water stressed with 40-80% of its water resources being utilized and 40% of the water demand being used by Flemish industry. Companies are also the first to lose their 'license to operate' in the event of drought; compromising their ability to generate economic output. The industry itself has voiced concerns about its resilience towards water shortage, yet it also admits to not being prepared to act upon it. Industrial water use is complex in terms of quantities, qualities and dynamics, rendering it difficult to uncover opportunities without the help of holistic computational tools. However, industrial sites offer opportunities for efficient water use and industrial ecology, as individual activities are located in close proximity and show diverse characteristics in terms of demand and supply. Efficient management of water with a focus on using 'alternative water sources' like reclaimed water and rainwater is therefore very important to support a sustainable growth of the Flemish economy. The Blue Deal of the Flemish government puts alternative water sourcing as a key goal, underlining the urgency of the challenge. The objective of the Water Reuse and Exchange Advanced Computational Tool (WaterREACT) is to prototype model code that minimizes water demand within industrial zones from external, 'conventional' sources, i.e. tap water, surface water and groundwater. WaterREACT aims to support planning for circular water and rainwater use at industrial sites. More specifically, the model algorithm will deliver computation-based decision inputs, through calculating scenarios that maximize water exchange based on alternative sources, and thus minimize dependency on conventional sources. Water demand and supply will be matched based on quantity, quality and temporality of the flows. Additionally, the proximity of the supply and demand points is accounted, along with the treatment options to upgrade water quality. Water exchange can be modelled for bilateral and multi-company exchanges. To support decision making, indicators considering water resilience, cost and environmental impacts are calculated for different scenarios. At an early stage of the project, customer demands will be elicited and use to define the minimal viable product and the valorization trajectories.

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AquaPro: Integrated control to produce high-quality microbial protein on food & beverage effluents used as sustainable aquafeed ingredients. 01/11/2020 - 31/10/2021

Abstract

By 2050, the planet will need to carry 9.7 billion people and their gorging consumption, putting major stress on meat production and fisheries alike. Half of the aquatic protein is currently coming from aquaculture, which sources 33% of its feed from wild catch, putting fish stocks and biodiversity at its limits. Single-cell protein (SCP) is proposed as an alternative to traditional aquafeed. This SCP can be produced from local waste streams, which creates a circular solution for the increasing pressure on wild fish stocks. The waste effluents of the economically important food and beverage industries provide major recovery opportunity, as they are produced in vast amounts and typically carry high organic and nutrient loads, while not being contaminated with pathogens or toxic elements. Aerobic heterotrophic bacteria (AHB), present in conventional wastewater treatments, pose an ideal SCP candidate, given their rapid growth rate and high protein content. The AquaPro project aims to establish a quality-steered resource recovery by AHB-based SCP cultivation on a wide variety of food/beverage industrial effluents. An integrated control system based on respirometry in combination with renewable methanol spiking is proposed to steer stability, quality and quantity of the SCP. The high-quality SCP end-product could be valorized as protein ingredient in aquafeed, providing a resource-efficient and sustainable answer to the growing protein gap, within the framework of a circular economy.

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Biocontrol of Xylella and its vector in olive trees for integrated pest management (BIOVEXO). 01/05/2020 - 30/04/2025

Abstract

BIOVEXO demonstrates a set of new and innovative biopesticides targeting the plant-pathogenic Xylella bacterium and its transmitting spittlebug vector, to fight a disease that seriously threatens olive and almond production in the European Mediterranean region. BIOVEXO's biopesticides will reduce the input of chemical insecticides and will sustainably increase and secure European olive cultivation in its valuable socio-economic context. The products will be tested for use in curative and preventive approaches (integrated pest management, IPM). BIOVEXO will provide a mechanistic understanding of the biopesticides' mode of action to support final product development and will ensure environmental and economic sustainability by performing a life cycle assessment (LCA) and risk, toxicity, and pathogenicity analyses. The University of Antwerp is mainly involved in the LCA activities. Thorough evaluation regarding regulatory compliance will prepare the products for smooth market entry post project.

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OPTIMISE: Advanced biOreactors and Processing equipmenT for culturIng beneficial MIcrobeS to higher yiElds. 01/05/2020 - 30/04/2024

Abstract

Beneficial microbes have a plethora of biomedical, environmental and engineering applications. Currently, many fundamental and more applied R&D projects are slowed down by the need for advanced equipment for the upscaling and processing of the microbial cultures. Here, a research consortium of bio-engineers, civil engineers, biologists and pharmaceutical engineers was built to jointly advance the applications and research of beneficial microbes at UAntwerpen. This consortium aims to manage joint equipment and expertise. The core of the equipment is a 100 l pilot bioreactor suited for bacteria, yeasts and algae. It is fully computer controlled and monitored, and equipped with a steam-in-place (SIP) unit. The system is equipped with several sensors and valves allowing automated control of important parameters (e.g. pH, dissolved oxygen, conductivity, turbidity, …). The whole system is GMP- compatible and in pharmaceutical- grade steel. A 10 l bioreactor is foreseen for optimizing culturing conditions. The reactors are complemented with an incubator-shaker for the growth of inocula and postprocessing equipment to professionally process the biomass. The post-processing equipment mainly consists of a large scale, low- to- high speed cooled centrifuge and a pilot spray dryer for final processing for extended shelf life of the biomass and work up of the biomass towards its final application.

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BioCatcher: Upgrading waste nitrogen in a biological scrubber to produce ammonium nitrate. 01/05/2020 - 31/10/2021

Abstract

Only around 20% of the N entering the EU agricultural system is converted to finished products for human consumption. This result in large leakage of reactive nitrogen into the environment with negative impacts on soils, water and air, which are associated with health problems and environmental damage. Although nitrogen is a renewable resource, the industrial synthesis of nitrogen to ammonia is highly energy-intense (in the Haber-Bosch process) and releases significant amounts of greenhouse gases to the atmosphere. The industrial production of reactive nitrogen can be reduced by recovering nitrogen from waste streams as useful products to apply directly or indirectly (after further processing) as fertilizers. Flanders is designated as a nitrate vulnerable zone, which indicates the need for additional measure to protect and safeguard the environment. This highlights the need to increase nutrient usage efficiency through a more sustainable waste management system targeting the recovery and reuse of nutrients embedded in waste streams. Ammonium-rich liquid streams can be subjected to state-of-the-art stripping and acid scrubbing. Ammonia-rich gases or air with acid scrubbing. The extensive implementation of conventional stripping/scrubbing technology is prevented by several disadvantages: i) high operational costs, and ii) usage and storage of acids posing significant risks to human and environmental health. BioCatcher addresses these challenges as it aims to biologically and sustainably circumvent the use of scrubbing acids. In the project the operational boundaries will be explored and defined to understand the critical parameters. Secondly, a prototype reactor will be tested and optimised to overcome reach maximum concentrations of useful compounds. Finally, the economic viability will be evaluated.

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Nitrogenisor: Microbial technology to generate N2 as neutral gas from urine in Space. 06/03/2020 - 28/02/2022

Abstract

Long-duration human spaceflight has gained more public interest in recent years yet comes with grand and unique engineering challenges. Cabin pressure is predominantly dictated by the amount of inert nitrogen gas present and small losses in long missions may create conditions not fit for life. At present day, no space technology exists to generate lost nitrogen gas from locally available resources. On Earth, nitrogen gas is microbially regenerated with bacteria performing denitrification or anammox, processes which have been successfully applied in for instance wastewater treatment plants. This study aims to extrapolate such microbial technology to space applications, where the nitrogen present in urine of astronauts can be converted to inert nitrogen gas. The "Nitrogenisor" will use partial nitritation/anammox as energy- and resource-efficient process with minimum co-production of carbon dioxide. Application of this process in a membrane-aerated biofilm reactor will enable gravity independent aeration. Nitrogenisor would decrease the need to haul nitrogen gas from Earth, while simultaneously mitigating risks linked to the waste produced on the spaceflight.

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Microbial Systems Technology (MST). 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2025

Abstract

Microorganisms have been exploited from the earliest times for baking, brewing, and food preservation. More recently, the enormous versatility in biochemical and physiological properties of microbes has been exploited to create new chemicals and nanomaterials, and has led to bio-electrical systems employed for clean energy and waste management. Moreover, it has become clear that humans, animals and plants are greatly influenced by their microbiome, leading to new medical treatments and agricultural applications. Recent progress in molecular biology and genetic engineering provide a window of opportunity for developing new microbiology-based technology. Just as advances in physics and engineering transformed life in the 20th century, rapid progress in (micro)biology is poised to change the world in the decades to come. The Excellence Centre "Microbial Systems Technology" (MST) will assemble and consolidate the expertise in microbial ecology and technology at UAntwerpen, embracing state-of-the-art technologies and interdisciplinary systems biology approaches to better understand microbes and their environment and foster the development of transformational technologies and applications. MST connects recently established research lines across UAntwerpen in the fields of microbial ecology, medical microbial ecology, plant physiology, biomaterials and nanotechnology with essential expertise in Next Generation Sequencing and Bioinformatics. By joining forces, new and exciting developments can be more quickly integrated into research activities, thus catalyzing the development of novel microbial products and processes, including functional food, feed and fertilizers, probiotics, and novel biosensors and bio-electronics applications. This way, MST aims for an essential contribution to the sustainable improvement of human health and the environment.

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PurpleRace: Cost-cutting raceway technology for purple microbiomes, sustainable feed ingredients for healthy fish. 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

The aquaculture feed and ornamental fish food markets depend mainly on fishmeal as protein source, yet its use is highly controversial as its production relies primarily on fish caught in the wild resulting in overexploitation of natural fish stocks. The use of microbial biomass as protein source for feeds, termed microbial protein, has the potential to mitigate this unsustainable practice. Biomass of purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB) is a type of microbial protein with a high protein content, an outstanding protein quality and a high vitamin and pigment content. Its potential use as feed ingredient has been demonstrated, yet research beyond the nutritional value such as health or color improvements is limited or nonexistent. The PurpleRace project is firstly developing a novel production method that will reduce the current high production costs by using raceway technology. Secondly, PurpleRace will provide evidence for the benefits of PNSB as a feed ingredient, resulting in a detailed protocol for the formulation of an ornamental fish food.

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Development of a reversible immobilised cell reactor for the valorisation of dilute phenol waste streams to microbial oil. 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Diluted phenol-rich streams occur regularly in lignocellulose-based biorefineries. Today, phenols are often regarded as waste. Some microorganisms can convert phenols into valuable intracellular components by fermentation. This makes the troublesome waste stream a raw material and an economic opportunity. To efficiently concentrate these dilute phenolic streams by conversion to intracellular components, it is necessary to speed up the process. In practice this often happens by increasing the amount of microorganisms, the biocatalyst, and consequently creating high cell concentrations. There is no efficient economic process for integrated fermentation and recovery of intracellular products. Our hypothesis is that the design of a new reactor type, namely a reversible immobilized cell reactor (RIR), offers a possible solution. In this reactor successively adhesion of the cells on a suitable support, fermentation, and finally desorption, to recover the intracellular components occurs. As a case study, the production of microbial oil is investigated starting from the phenolic hydrolysate obtained during the thermochemical treatment of lignocellulose. The aim of this project is to design an economically feasible process for valorising this phenolic flow. The new process will contribute to obtaining a biomass based circular economy.

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Adhesins: the missing link for activated sludge bioflocculation? 01/11/2019 - 31/10/2023

Abstract

Given the huge amounts of wastewater that are daily produced by households, industry and agriculture, efficient wastewater treatment technologies are required. The most cost effective way to treat wastewater is by exploiting the biodegradation capacity of bacteria that "eat" our polluting components. To keep these bacteria in the treatment system and ensure their continuous presence, they need to be separated from the purified water. Given their tiny size, this separation is impossible if the bacteria would not aggregate into socalled activated sludge flocs. The focus of this project is to unravel the mechanism behind this aggregation or "bioflocculation" process. The underlying hypothesis is that specific proteins (i.e., adhesins) on some bacteria, strongly and specifically bind to sugars or other proteins on other bacteria, thereby forming an almost unbreakable key-lock bond. To proof this hypothesis, we will first develop/refine a set of dedicated monitoring tools for adhesin detection and characterisation and floc strength quantification, and then perform dedicated and controlled experiments in the lab. As validation and to investigate how generic the detected adhesins are, we will screen for adhesins in full-scale conventional wastewater treatment systems. Finally, we will also screen novel wastewater treatment or water resource recovery systems for the presence of adhesins and study whether their presence can boost the performance of these systems in a targeted way.

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Identifying best available technologies for decentralized wastewater treatment and resource recovery for India (Saraswati 2.0). 01/08/2019 - 31/07/2023

Abstract

The aim of SARASWATI 2.0 is to identify best available and affordable technologies for decentralized wastewater treatment with scope of resource/energy recovery and reuse in urban and rural areas. Further, it addresses the challenge of real time monitoring and automation. Ten pilot technologies will demonstrate enhanced removal of organic pollution, nutrients, micro-pollutants and pathogens in India. All pilots allow for resource recovery contributing to the principles of a circular economy, and undergo a comprehensive performance assessment complemented by an sustainability assessment. UAntwerp, in collaboration with TUDelft and IITKharagpur, is involved in one of these pilots which is based on an innovative raceway reactor producing purple bacteria on the wastewater. UAntwerp will furthermore perform life cycle assessments (LCA) on the pilot technologies.

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Investigation of the effect of metal ions and mediators on the delignification selectivity during pretreatment of poplar wood by Phanerochaete chrysosporium. 01/10/2018 - 30/09/2022

Abstract

Microbial pretreatment of lignocellulosic biomass is performed to delignify the substrate for further use of the carbohydrates present. Typical applications of the pretreated substrate include its conversion to chemicals by subsequent hydrolysis and fermentation, or biopulping for use in the paper industry. In contrast to the traditional technologies at high temperature and high usage of solvents, microbial pretreatment is an environmentally friendly technology. The mold Phanerochaete chrysosporium is a good candidate for lignin degradation because of its fast growth and high optimal growth temperature. For delignification purposes, the mold excretes extracellular peroxidases, i.e. manganese peroxidase and lignin peroxidase, that catalyse the oxidation and depolymerisation of lignin. However, the major disadvantage is the non-selective degradation of the lignin over the present carbohydrates. Supplements, such as metal ions and aromatic compounds, can have an activating or inhibiting action on the delignification or hydrolysis process. Moreover, recent research showed that some metal ions and aromatic compounds can act as intermediates in the oxidation of non-phenolic compounds, such as carbohydrates. Delignification of lignocellulose and hydrolysis as well as oxidation of carbohydrates will determine the efficiency of the pretreatment, dependent on the desired application. Therefore, in this research, the influence of supplements on the different possible actors in the process, i.e. substrate, microorganism and enzymes, will be investigated. Better insights in the pretreatment will help to determine which combination and concentration of supplements will improve the application potential of the pretreated wood. Additionally, a improved method for easy determination of the growth rate and delignification rate based on FTIR will be developed. Finally, a mathematical model to describe the evolution of delignification process will be proposed.

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Sustainable multifunctional fertilizer - combining bio-coatings, probiotics and struvite for phosphorus and iron supply (SUSFERT). 01/05/2018 - 30/04/2023

Abstract

SUSFERT addresses the massive usage of mineral fertilisers in EU agriculture, which are largely based on nonrenewable resources, but are required in intensive crop production for meeting demands for food and feed. SUSFERT will develop multifunctional fertilisers for phosphorus (P) and iron (Fe) supply, which will fit into existing production processes and common EU agricultural practice.

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Smart process control enabling robust partial nitrtation/anammox for energy-positive sewage treatment. 01/01/2018 - 31/12/2021

Abstract

Currently, sewage treatment is an energy-consuming process. However, sewage contains about ten times the required energy to treat it, and thus energy positive sewage treatment should be possible. This can be achieved by converting the conventional treatment plant to a 2-staged system; in the first stage, as much energy as possible is recovered from the sewage while in the second stage, the remaining pollutants are removed while simultaneously minimizing its energy requirement. Partial nitritation/anammox is a key technology in this energy-saving process, responsible for nitrogen removal, but there are currently several bottlenecks for its implementation in the water-line of a sewage treatment plant. This project aims to develop a smart process control that will allow this implementation and will ensure a stable and robust process. Therefore, state-of-the-art technologies will be combined with novel created technologies, such as a return sludge treatment. Additionally, the current issues about the start-up of partial nitritation/anammox will be solved by a newly developed method to seed the reactor. Finally, a conceptual retrofit is designed that will allow the easy implementation of this energy positive technology in existing treatment plants, thus lowering the threshold for companies to switch to this novel technology.

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PurpleTech – Purple bacteria cleantech for the production of nutritional protein. 01/10/2017 - 30/09/2021

Abstract

By 2050, the global demand for nutritional protein will increase by about 50%. Yet, the boundaries of environmental sustainability are already severely trespassed in the traditional fertilizer-feed-food chain and in fish-meal based aquaculture. Around the world, researchers have taken up the quest for novel, sustainable protein foods. Recovering and recycling renewable resources from waste streams is one of the key steps to mitigate the environmental impact. In single cell protein (SCP) production, both societal needs perfectly match, as microbial technology is probably the most resource-efficient manner of producing nutritional protein. In this new era of (meta)transcriptomics and (meta)proteomics, we start to see a glimpse of all the biological features that can be steered. This provides a strong incentive to revisit SCP, for the first time with a fundamental and mechanistically driven approach, exploiting not only the potential of a microbial cell to its fullest, but also the even richer genetic pool of a microbial community. Purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB) are nutritionally one of the most attractive types of SCP, and are furthermore metabolically the most versatile organisms on the planet. Each type of (sub)metabolism represents distinct (meta)proteomes, and hence nutritional properties such as essential amino acid profile, gastro-intestinal digestibility and nucleic acid content. Biotechnologically, the controllability of autotrophically grown PNSB communities is completely unexplored. A set of 9 tools has been distilled from a number of biological and ecological response mechanisms. In brief, it is hypothesized based on recent proteomic data that different cellular responses can drastically influence the nutritional quality. At the level of the microbial community, the objective is to synergistically make use of the full richness of the metaproteome and metatranscriptome of several PNSB and non-PNSB populations. PurpleMENU bridges environmental biotechnology to sustainable chemistry and nutrition sciences. Hereby key insights are unraveled that serve as the basis for novel bioprocesses, and perhaps for global food security and sustainability.

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Quantification of nitrogen, phosphorus and protein flows in the food chain in Flanders: indicators for nutrient efficiency and circularity 01/09/2020 - 31/08/2021

Abstract

In NutriFlow, Ghent University, the University of Antwerp, the European Biogas Association and United Experts collaborate to execute material/substance flow analyses (MFA/SFA) for the Flanders Environment Agency (VMM). More specifically, flows of nitrogen, phosphorus and protein are targeted with the agri-food chain. Useful indicator parameters will be derived from these to score the sustainability of managing the related resources and products.

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Piloting a raceway reactor for the purple non-sulfur bacteria cultivation on domestic waste streams for the recovery of nutrients and water treatment as resources for food production 01/06/2020 - 30/11/2020

Abstract

In this collaboration between SEMiLLA IPStar, the Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Metropolitan Solutions (AMS) and the University of Antwerp a proof of concept will be delivered for terrestrial valorisation of Space technology. In the micro-ecological life support system alternative (MELiSSA) programme from the European Space Agency (ESA), purple bacteria play a key role in treating waste streams and producing high-quality biomass. The potential will be investigated using a raceway reactor, including usage of the products for plant production.

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Donation (2020) for research prof. S. Vlaeminck 01/01/2020 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

Partial nitritation/anammox can contribute to energy-positive and hence more sustainable sewage treatment. The donated resources will be used to fund research and development in this area, to build and operate bioreactors.

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Consultancy on the integration of nitrification for the pilot plant of MELiSSA, the regenerative life support system van ESA. 01/10/2017 - 31/03/2021

Abstract

Long-term missions to Mars or the Moon require an autonomous production of crucial crew consumables such food, oxygen and water. Regenerative life support systems (RLSS) can refine and upgrade available streams (e.g. kitchen waste, faecal matter, urine, shower water and condensate) to such essential products. MELiSSA (micro-ecological life support system alternative) is the RLSS programme of the European space agency (ESA). Nitrification is a microbial process and plays a key role in MELiSSA, produce a stable nitrate-rich stream available for food production, with plants and microalgae. Expert consultancy to the MELiSSA pilot plant at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona should ensure a swift integration of nitrification in the complete life support loop.

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Nitrification consultancy for the pilot plant of MELiSSA, the regenerative life support system van ESA. 19/06/2017 - 19/11/2017

Abstract

Long-term missions to Mars or the Moon require an autonomous production of crucial crew consumables such food, oxygen and water. Regenerative life support systems (RLSS) can refine and upgrade available streams (e.g. kitchen waste, faecal matter, urine, shower water and condensate) to such essential products. MELiSSA (micro-ecological life support system alternative) is the RLSS programme of the European space agency (ESA). Nitrification is a microbial process and plays a key role in MELiSSA, produce a stable nitrate-rich stream available for food production, with plants and microalgae. Expert consultancy to the MELiSSA pilot plant at the Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona should ensure a swift integration of nitrification in the complete life support loop.

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Closing loops at farm and regional levels to mitigate GHG emissions and environmental contamination – focus on carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus cycling in agro‐ecosystems. 01/05/2017 - 30/04/2019

Abstract

Carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus losses from land and increasing concentrations in receiving waters or in the form of greenhouse gases (GHG) in the atmosphere are environmental issues of major concern. Agriculture contributes significantly to these emissions. An integrated approach is needed to overcome this, ranging from agricultural management to consumption patterns.

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Mainstream Anammox System (MAS®). 01/05/2017 - 01/04/2019

Abstract

Currently, sewage treatment is an energy-consuming process. However, sewage contains about ten times the required energy to treat it, and thus energy positive sewage treatment should be possible. This can be achieved by converting the conventional treatment plant to a 2-staged system; in the first stage, as much energy as possible is recovered from the sewage while in the second stage, the remaining pollutants are removed while simultaneously minimizing its energy requirement. Partial nitritation/anammox is a key technology in this energy-saving process, responsible for nitrogen removal, but there are currently several bottlenecks for its implementation in the water-line of a sewage treatment plant. This project aims to develop a smart process control that will allow this implementation and will ensure a stable and robust process.

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Research team(s)

BrewPro: Multi-stage microbial technology for the cost-effective production of high-quality animal feed on brewery effluents. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2020

Abstract

By 2050, the global demand for nutritional protein will increase by about 50%. Yet, the boundaries of environmental sustainability are already severely trespassed in the traditional food-supply chain. Locally recovering resources from waste streams is one of the key steps to reduce environmental impact while creating import independency (e.g. soybean). In single cell protein (SCP) production, these societal needs perfectly match, as microbial technology is probably the most resource-efficient manner of producing nutritional protein. Wastewater from the food processing industry provides an excellent target for upgrading, such as brewery wastewater. The BrewPro project aims to develop a process that for the first time would allow to tune the protein quantity and quality of aerobic heterotrophic bacteria. This should enable cost-effective harvesting and post-processing, yielding a nutritionally attractive ingredient for animal feed preparations. The concept is based in a multiple stage anaerobic/aerobic bioreactor. As such, BrewPro wants to strengthen food sustainability and security through smart management of secondary resources.

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Scientific Chair Water-Link. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Risk assessment of tap water: from a chemical screening of emerging organic micro-pollutants to risk communication. The safety of drinking water is very important, and requires careful detection of so-called micropollutants or emerging contaminants, including for instance pharmaceuticals, personal care products and pesticides. It is the objective to develop a practically feasible screening method to detect such compounds, assess their toxicity and, if necessary, manage the associated risks. This effort is interdisciplinary including also social science aspects with relation to risk perception and communication.

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Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion (MIC) in ballast tanks of merchant ships controlled through a UV ballast water management system. 01/01/2017 - 31/12/2018

Abstract

Over the past decades MIC or Microbiologically Influenced Corrosion was recognized as a separate corrosion form besides general corrosion, galvanic corrosion, crevice corrosion, pitting, intergranular corrosion, erosion corrosion and stress corrosion. Today MIC should be considered as an extra parameter, a biological element amplifying the abiotic electrochemical corrosion process. MIC refers to the influence of microorganisms on the kinetics of the corrosion processes of metals. This accelerated type of corrosion may not be associated with one specific organism but with a collection of bacteria co-existing at the same time at the same place forming a microbial consortium. The main type of bacteria generally associated with corrosion or iron or steel are sulfate reducing bacteria (SRB), Sulphur-oxidizing v-bacteria (SOB), iron-oxidizing/reducing bacteria (IOB/IRB), manganese oxidizing bacteria and bacteria secreting organic acids and extracellular polymeric substances (EPS) or slime. The classical mechanisms for microbial influenced corrosion can be reviewed as follows: 1. Metabolic production of aggressive compounds 2. Oxygen concentration cell formation 3. Acceleration of anodic or cathodic reactions by depolarization effect 4. Hydrogen embrittlement (depolarization). Ballast water discharged by ships is generally identified as a major pathway for introducing species to new environments. The effects of the introduction of new species have in many areas of the world been devastating. The upcoming IMO ballast water management convention (2004) (maybe in force this year?) will try to call a hold to this explosive situation. Today, ships exchange their ballast water in the middle of the ocean but in the future, all ships will have to install a ballast water treatment system on board to rule out these organisms effectively. One of the possible techniques is to sterilize the ballast by means of UV light. The D-2 ballast water treatment system shall have an efficacy of; • not more than 10 viable organisms per m³ ≥50 micrometers in minimum dimension, and • not more than 10 viable organisms per milliliter < 50 micrometers in minimum dimension and ≥10 micrometers in minimum dimension. Indicator microbe concentrations shall not exceed: • toxicogenic vibrio cholerae: 1 colony forming unit (cfu) per 100 milliliter or 1 cfu per gram of zooplankton samples; • Escherichia coli: 250 cfu per 100 milliliter • Intestinal Enterococci: 100 cfu per 100 milliliter Bacteria are smaller than the organisms discussed above and technically are not taken into account when evaluating the efficiency of a D-2 ballast water management system. However, we think and expect, that by means of this experiment we will be able to prove that the bacteria causing MIC are killed or rendered infertile by a ballast water management systems using UV. If this is indeed the case UV ballast water treatment systems will stop or at least retard MIC. Four groups of bacteria involved in MIC will be cultivated in a standard Postgate "B" medium and diluted with seawater before being pumped through an experimental set-up consisting out of a glass tube spiraling around a UV lamp. The exposure time will be regulated by varying the transit time. The flow-through will be passed over a steel coupon, which will then be cultivated for several weeks in artificial, non-shaken conditions. Biofilm formation will be followed up. In a second similar set-up the glass tube will be coated with a titanium dioxide film. TiO2 will act as a catalyst on the UV radiation effect. If this can be established, it should be possible to reduce the exposure times and realize and economize a lot of energy in the future ballast water management systems. The "tour de force" of this experiment is that with one system, UV radiation of ballast water, two problems may be solved, MIC of ballast tanks and the carriage of invasive species via ballast water.

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Understanding Nitrous Oxide Production from The Mainstream Partial Nitritation and Anammox Process (N2OPNA). 01/11/2016 - 31/10/2018

Abstract

Energy-positive sewage treatment requires a minimum consumption of organic carbon in the biological nitrogen removal. However, there seems to be a trade-off between energy savings and sustainability, as mainstream process conditions for shortcut nitrogen removal might favor the production of nitrous oxide (N2O), potent greenhouse gas. The N2OPNA-project aims at providing insights into N2O production pathways from partial nitritation/anammox (PNA) applied under mainstream conditions, and at formulating answers to mitigate N2O emissions. The project outcome will be beneficial for the design and operation of full-scale water treatment plants that are energy positive and have a minimum global warming footprint.

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Purple Microbes for Eco-friendly NUtrition – PurpleMENU. 01/10/2016 - 31/12/2016

Abstract

By 2050, the global demand for nutritional protein will increase by about 50%. Yet, the boundaries of environmental sustainability are already severely trespassed in the traditional fertilizer-feed-food chain and in fish-meal based aquaculture. Around the world, researchers have taken up the quest for novel, sustainable protein foods. Recovering and recycling renewable resources from waste streams is one of the key steps to mitigate the environmental impact. In single cell protein (SCP) production, both societal needs perfectly match, as microbial technology is probably the most resource-efficient manner of producing nutritional protein. In this new era of (meta)transcriptomics and (meta)proteomics, we start to see a glimpse of all the biological features that can be steered. This provides a strong incentive to revisit SCP, for the first time with a fundamental and mechanistically driven approach, exploiting not only the potential of a microbial cell to its fullest, but also the even richer genetic pool of a microbial community. Purple non-sulfur bacteria (PNSB) are nutritionally one of the most attractive types of SCP, and are furthermore metabolically the most versatile organisms on the planet. Each type of (sub)metabolism represents distinct (meta)proteomes, and hence nutritional properties such as essential amino acid profile, gastro-intestinal digestibility and nucleic acid content. Biotechnologically, the controllability of autotrophically grown PNSB communities is completely unexplored. PurpleMENU bridges environmental biotechnology to sustainable chemistry and nutrition sciences. Hereby key insights are unraveled that serve as the basis for novel bioprocesses, and perhaps for global food security and sustainability.

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Protein production with purple bacteria for nutrient recovery in the potato processing industry 01/01/2016 - 31/12/2019

Abstract

Flanders is a hotspot of nutrients (nitrogen and phosphorus). This is the result of intensive food production, and nutrient losses along this fertilizer to food conversion chain. To recover lost nutrients, conversion into microbial protein (single cell protein) is a sustainably appealing scenario. Purple bacteria represent an interesting, yet underexplored source for microbial protein production and consumption. The potential of purple bacteria is derived from their metabolism as photoheterotrophs. Firstly, they have a near perfect organic carbon immobilization efficiency in comparison with other heterotrophs, decreasing greatly the carbon input needs. Secondly, purple bacteria also have a high growth rate with respect to other phototrophs, leading to a desirable low land usage footprint. Thirdly, their unique potential to grow on infra-red wavelengths allows a selectivity tool during cultivation. The research objective of this project is to acquire insights into the biotechnological production of purple bacteria in open communities on fermented wastewater from the potato processing industry. It is targeted to demonstrate that biomass enriched in purple bacteria can serve as an excellent feed ingredient for aquaculture.

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MicroNOD : Microbial Nutrients On Demand. 01/10/2015 - 30/09/2017

Abstract

The MicroNOD project aims to overcome key technological and non-technological barriers to establish an innovative sustainable value chain that upgrades inorganic nutrients from safe industrial side streams to a high-quality organic fertilizer for professional growers as well as for the retail sector. Nutrients will be immobilized microbially through aerobic and phototrophic mechanisms, with a strong focus on a technological leap in knowledge that leads to cost efficiency, minimum input of fresh water, fossil-based energy and non-recovered materials. The processing of the microbiota to organic fertilizer in low-impact crop substrates is directed to maximally align the nutrient release from the fertilizers with the plants needs. MicroNOD targets systemic innovation through strong interaction with all stakeholders throughout society. It is intended to stimulate demand and public acceptance of the recovered bioproduct, create economic value for all business activities along this innovative value chain, set up a quality assurance system, meet product legislation and finally quantify sustainability.

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Thermophilic consortia for nitrogen removal: transposition from natural resources to biotechnology. 01/02/2015 - 30/09/2015

Abstract

This is a fundamental research project financed by the Research Foundation – Flanders (FWO). The project was subsidized after selection by the FWO-expert panel. This study focusses on the removal of harmful ammonium from polluted water by converting it to harmless nitrogen gas, which is released to the atmosphere. Opposed to the established mesophilic temperature conditions, biotechnology at thermophilic temperatures is hypothesized to have several advantages: higher stability, faster reactions, lower sludge production and better hygienization.

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