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The power of Volatile Fatty Acids recovery

The power of Volatile Fatty Acids recovery as a bond between Copenhagen and Delft

Research stay- Aalborg University- Delft University of Technology- Greencovery

A research stay abroad is quite common among PhD students, and listening to all the good stories and experiences of fellow PhDs encouraged me to give it a try. I am currently doing my PhD in Copenhagen at Aalborg University (AAU), a young and international university with three campuses in Denmark. My PhD project is within the framework of the project financed by COWIfonden “Wastewater and Organic Waste Treatment Facilities – Net Green Energy, Nutrients and Bioproducts producers”. More specifically, I focus on waste management and revalorization using sewage sludge as the main component. For that purpose, we are adding an additional organic waste: the organic fraction of municipal solid waste. Its collection is rapidly increasing in the Copenhagen area and has a great potential for biorefineries. We are working on the production of volatile fatty acids (VFA), caproic and heptanoic acid by co-fermentation of the two substrates as a waste management strategy. Our project partner is Aquateam COWI, a research company based in Oslo who are investigating the addition of fish sludge, in this case, to sewage sludge.

The international environment of my university, together with our Norwegian collaboration in the project, encouraged me to seek another international experience as part of my PhD. After some fermentation experiments in AAU, I looked for a place to work on the recovery of my products. I was very lucky to get in touch with Carlos, who has developed a new technology to recover VFA during his PhD at TU Delft. He quickly offered his help and expertise, and we agreed that I would come to Delft for 5 months to work on my project under the supervision of Adrie Straathof, leader of the Bioprocess Engineering section at TU Delft.

Once all the paperwork and bureaucracy were sorted out, I travelled to Delft and started working closely with all the Greencovery team. We have been applying the technology to different VFAs and my own samples from Denmark, which are quite complex. It has definitely been a great experience to work together with such an enthusiastic team: they have taught me a lot and helped me throughout my stay.

Before coming to Delft, I had all the common doubts and insecurities about what to expect from The Netherlands. But, after all, it is not so different from Denmark – lots of bikes, cloudy weather and rain. As my experience in Delft is getting close to an end, I really feel that I am making the most of it,  and the warm welcome that Greencovery gave me played a big part.

Clara Fernando Foncillas – PhD candidate in anaerobic bioprocess engineering

Section for Sustainable Biotechnology, Aalborg University Copenhagen

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