Pakistani, Chinese scientists work together to reuse organic waste

Research institutes from Pakistan and China are partnering to find ways to repurpose organic waste in Pakistan. Dr. Farrukh Raza Amin, an Assistant Professor at the Department of Chemistry at COMSATS University Islamabad (CUI), mentioned in an interview that the goal is to set up the first pilot-scale project on campus that will make use of food waste.

For over two years, he has been working with Tianjin Institute of Industrial Biotechnology (TIB), Chinese Academy of Sciences (CAS) on anaerobic acidification of organic wastes and value-added chemicals production.

“Through the lab-scale experiment, we have developed strains that produces chemicals including Butyric acid, acetate and propionate from food waste. These chemicals are widely used in pharmaceutical, food and paint industry”, Dr. Farrukh Raza Amin said.

Furthermore, scientists of the project work to establish a database on organic waste in Pakistan, which includes the characteristics of the feedstock, methane production performance and other basic data to do a systematic study.

The establishment of this information database will benefit both Chinese and Pakistani researchers to pursue research in the given field and provide an important basis to formulate relevant policies and promote the comprehensive utilization of organic waste.

The project is also in line with the “energy efficiency and clean energy production practices at industrial scale” spelled out in sustainable development goals-7 (SDG-7) proposed by United Nations, which are intended to be achieved by the year 2030.

Anaerobic digestion (AD) is a widely adopted technology used for producing biogas along with the digestate used as a fertilizer. However, using a wide range of organic wastes and residuals as substrate and diverse microbial community structure of the bioreactor makes AD as one of the most complicated biochemical processes.

In the process, hydrogen and volatile fatty acids (VFAs) are formed as intermediate products. As these acids are important precursors for various industries as mixed or purified chemicals such as pharmaceutical and food industry, the AD process can be bioengineered to produce VFAs alongside hydrogen and therefore biogas plants can become biorefineries for producing these value-added products.

The current project aims at producing and accumulating VFAs and hydrogen, inhibit their conversion to methane and to extract them as the final products. Moreover, it also aims at the preparation of biosynthetic microbes with the desired characteristics to optimize the process performance.