Correlations for the prediction of biomass yields are valuable, and many proposals based on a number of parameters (YATP, YAve, ηo, Yc, Gibbs energy efficiencies, and enthalpy efficiencies) have been published. This article critically examines the properties of the proposed parameters with respect to the general applicability to chemotrophic growth systems, a clear relation to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the absence of intrinsic problems, and a requirement of only black box information. It appears that none of the proposed parameters satisfies all these requirements. Particularly, the various energetic efficiency parameters suffer from major intrinsic problems. However, this article will show that the Gibbs energy dissipation per amount of produced biomass (kJ/C-mod) is a parameter which satisfies the requirements without having intrinsic problems. A simple correlation is found which provides the Gibbs energy dissipation/C-mol biomass as a function of the nature of the C-source (expressed as the carbon chain length and the degree of reduction). This dissipation appears to be nearly independent of the nature of the electron acceptor (e.g., O2, No3−, fermentation). Hence, a single correlation can describe a very wide range of microbial growth systems. In this respect, Gibbs energy dissipation is much more useful than heat production/C-mol biomass, which is strongly dependent on the electron acceptor used. Evidence is presented that even a net heat-uptake can occur in certain growth systems.
The correlation of Gibbs energy dissipation thus obtained shows that dissipation/C-mol biomass increases for C-sources with smaller chain length (C6 → C1), and increases for both higher and lower degrees of reduction than 4. It appears that the dissipation/C-mol biomass can be regarded as a simple thermodynamic measure of the amount of biochemical “work” required to convert the carbon source into biomass by the proper irreversible carbon-carbon coupling and oxidation/reduction reactions. This is supported by the good correlation between the theoretical ATP requirement for biomass formation on different C-sources and the dissipation values (kJ/C-mol biomass) found. The established correlation for the Gibbs energy dissipation allows the prediction of the chemotrophic biomass yield on substrate with an error of 13% in the yield range 0.01 to 0.80 C-mol biomass/(C)-mol substrate for aerobic/anaerobic/denitrifying growth systems.