Summary: Numerous bacteria have been found to exhibit the capacity for intracellular polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) accumulation. Current methods for PHA production at the industrial scale are based on their synthesis from microbial isolates in either their wild form or by recombinant strains. High production costs are associated with these methods; thus, attempts have been made to develop more cost-effective processes. Reducing the cost of the carbon substrates (e.g., through feeding renewable wastes) and increasing the efficiency of production technologies (including both fermentation and downstream extraction and recovery) are two such examples of these attempts. PHA production processes based on mixed microbial cultures are being investigated as a possible technology to decrease production costs, since no sterilization is required and bacteria can adapt quite well to the complex substrates that may be present in waste material. PHA accumulation by mixed cultures has been found under various operational conditions and configurations at both bench-scale and full-scale production. The process known as “feast and famine” or as “aerobic dynamic feeding” seems to have a high potential for PHA production by mixed cultures. Enriched cultures submitted to a transient carbon supply can synthesize PHA at levels comparable to those of pure cultures. Indeed, the intracellular PHA content can reach around 70% of the cell dry weight, suggesting that this process could be competitive with pure culture PHA production when fully developed. Basic and applied research of the PHA production process by mixed cultures has been carried out in the past decade, focusing on areas such as microbial characterization, process configuration, reactor operational strategies, process modeling and control, and polymer characterization. This paper presents a review of the PHA production process with mixed cultures, encompassing the findings reported in the literature as well as our own experimental results in relation to each of these areas.
Production of PHA by mixed cultures under feast and famine conditions.