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2009

Landfill Biodegradation

Sam Adams – Bio-tec Environmental and


Danny Clark – ENSO Bottles

6/15/2009
Landfill Biodegradation
An in-depth look at biodegradation in landfill environments

By

Samuel Adams
Bio-tec Environmental, LLC
7009 Prospect Ave NE #202
Albuquerque,NM 87110
505-999-1160

Danny Clark
ENSO Bottles, LLC
PO Box 15886
Phoenix, AZ 85060
866-936-3676

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What is the first thing that comes to your mind when I mention “landfills”? Perhaps you immediately
conjure images of garbage, pollution or smelly waste? How about a source for clean inexpensive
energy? Many of us, especially those who lived through the 1980’s and 1990’s were brought up on the
belief that landfills were filling at an enormous rate and the world would soon be one large garbage
dump. We were taught that landfills created mummified tombs that would never go away. What we
now know is that landfills can be a source of one of the most inexpensive clean energies available. We
also know that despite our efforts to prevent it, biodegradation does in fact continue within landfills.

Let’s begin by learning about the characteristics of landfills. There are two types of landfills; dry tomb
and bioreactors. Dry tomb landfills are simply a big hole in the ground where garbage is compacted as
tightly as possible to save space and the tomb is sealed off reduce the amount of oxygen and moisture
getting in. The approach to dry tomb landfills is to “try” and prevent garbage from biodegrading. This
approach, which has been used for hundreds of years, creates a dry tomb in the hope that it will be ‘out
of sight out of mind’.

Bioreactor landfills, on the other hand, are advancements in landfill design to promote anaerobic
biodegradation. This type of landfill continues to compact the garbage as tightly as possible to keep the
oxygen out and to reduce space. However, to encourage anaerobic biodegradation bioreactor landfills
do something that dry tomb landfills do not, they circulate moisture through the garbage. By adding
moisture, biodegradation happens very quickly and in the case of bioreactor landfills the same area
being used for the landfill can be extended by 20 – 50 years longer. The most wonderful aspect of
bioreactor landfills is that the byproduct of anaerobic biodegradation is the off gassing of methane
which is used as a source for clean inexpensive energy.

What is the definition of biodegradation?

Now that we have the basics of landfills, let’s look at biodegradation. What does biodegradation mean
and why is there so much confusion about something that sounds so simple to define?

The first thing to keep in mind when answering this question is that everything on the planet and in the
universe is made from atomic particles. Even things that are considered "man made" utilize atomic
particles that were and always will be in existence. The other aspect to keep in mind is that everything
on the planet will decompose and biodegrade over time. Microbes are found all over the planet in every
aspect of our lives and are constantly breaking things back into their atomic parts. 1

ASTM International, an international standards organization defines biodegradation as “degradation


resulting from the action of naturally-occurring micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungi, and
algae”. Wikipedia defines biodegradation as: “the chemical breakdown of materials by a physiological
environment. Organic material can be degraded aerobically, with oxygen, or anaerobically, without
oxygen.”

Now that we have a better understanding that biodegradation occurs through the natural breakdown by
micro-organisms in either an environment with oxygen (aerobic) or without oxygen (anaerobic), lets
delve deeper into this process. Let’s look at what micro-organisms are to better understand how
biodegradation occurs.

1
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Biodegradation
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What is a micro-organism?

What is a micro-organism or the shorter name microbe? Microbes are the smallest organisms on the
planet and require the use of a microscope to be seen. There is a huge variety of organisms in this
section. They can work alone or in colonies. They can help you or hurt you. Most importantly, they make
up the largest number of living organisms on the planet. There are trillions of trillions of trillions of
microbes around the Earth.

Microbes include bacteria, fungi, some algae, and protozoa. A microbe can be heterotrophic or
autotrophic. These two terms mean they either eat other things (hetero) or make food for themselves
(auto). Think about it this way: plants are autotrophic and animals are heterotrophic. They can be
solitary or colonial. A protozoan like an amoeba might spend its whole life alone, cruising through the
water. Others, like fungi, work together in colonies to help each other survive. Most microorganisms are
unicellular (single-celled), but this is not universal, since some multi-cellular organisms are microscopic

Microbes live in all parts of the biosphere where there is liquid water, including soil, hot springs,
on the ocean floor, high in the atmosphere and deep inside rocks within the Earth's crust.
Microbes act as decomposers and are critical to nutrient recycling in ecosystems. Some
microbes can fix nitrogen and are a vital part of the nitrogen cycle. Recent studies indicate that
airborne microbes may play a role in precipitation and weather.

Microbes are also exploited by people in biotechnology, both in traditional food and beverage
preparation, and in modern technologies based on genetic engineering. However, pathogenic
microbes are harmful, since they invade and grow within other organisms, causing diseases that
kill millions of people, other animals, and plants.

Microorganisms are vital to humans and the environment, as they participate in the Earth's
element cycles such as the carbon cycle and nitrogen cycle, as well as fulfilling other vital roles
in virtually all ecosystems, such as recycling other organisms' dead remains and waste products
through decomposition. Microbes also have an important place in most higher-order multi-
cellular organisms. Many blame the failure of Biosphere 2 on an improper balance of microbes.

Use in food - Microorganisms are used in brewing, winemaking, baking, pickling and
other food-making processes. They are also used to control the fermentation process in
the production of cultured dairy products such as yogurt and cheese. The cultures also
provide flavor and aroma, and inhibit undesirable organisms.

Use in water treatment - Specially-cultured microbes are used in the biological


treatment of sewage and industrial waste effluent, a process known as bio-
augmentation.

Use in energy - Microbes are used in fermentation to produce ethanol, and in biogas
reactors to produce methane. Scientists are researching the use of algae to produce
liquid fuels, and bacteria to convert various forms of agricultural and urban waste into
usable fuels.

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Use in science - Microbes are also essential tools in biotechnology, biochemistry,
genetics, and molecular biology.2

As we can see microorganisms are a big part of our environment and everything that happens on the
planet.3 For those interested in the biochemical processes of the microbial organisms this document will
provide a high level explanation of the aerobic and anaerobic biodegradation processes.

The Biodegradation Process

Let’s look at microbes in action also known as biodegradation. Biodegradation is the process by which
organic substances are broken down into smaller compounds using the enzymes produced by living
microbial organisms. The microbial organisms transform the substance through metabolic or enzymatic
processes. Although biodegradation processes vary greatly, the final product of the degradation is most
often carbon dioxide and/or methane.

Biodegradable matter is generally organic material such as plant and animal matter and other
substances originating from living organisms, or artificial materials that are similar enough to plant and
animal matter to be put to use by microbes. Some microorganisms have the astonishing, naturally
occurring, microbial catabolic diversity to degrade, transform or accumulate a huge range of compounds
including hydrocarbons (e.g. oil), polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs), polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs),
pharmaceutical substances, radionuclides and metals. Organic material can be degraded aerobically,
with oxygen, or anaerobically, without oxygen.

Aerobic Biodegradation

Aerobic biodegradation is the breakdown of organic contaminants by microorganisms when oxygen is


present. More specifically, it refers to occurring or living only in the presence of oxygen; therefore, the
chemistry of the system, environment, or organism is characterized by oxidative conditions. Many
organic contaminants are rapidly degraded under aerobic conditions by aerobic bacteria called aerobes.

Aerobic bacteria (aerobe) have an oxygen based metabolism. Aerobes, in a process known as cellular
respiration, use oxygen to oxidize substrates (for example sugars and fats) in order to obtain energy.

Before cellular respiration begins, glucose molecules are broken down into two smaller molecules. This
happens in the cytoplasm of the aerobes. The smaller molecules then enter a mitochondrion, where
aerobic respiration takes place. Oxygen is used in the chemical reactions that break down the small
molecules into water and carbon dioxide. The reactions release energy for use within the microbe.

Anaerobic Biodegradation

Biodegradable waste in landfill degrades in the absence of oxygen through the process of anaerobic
digestion. Paper and other materials that normally degrade in a few years degrade more slowly over
longer periods of time. Biogas contains methane which has approximately 21 times the global warming
potential of carbon dioxide if released directly into the atmosphere. In a cradle to cradle approach, this
biogas is collected and converted into eco-friendly inexpensive power generation and carbon dioxide.
2
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Microorganism
3
http://www.microbeworld.org/microbes/types.aspx
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Anaerobic digestion is a series of processes in which microbes break down biodegradable material in the
absence of oxygen. It is widely used to treat wastewater sludge and biodegradable waste because it
provides volume and mass reduction of the input material.

As part of an integrated waste management system, anaerobic digestion reduces the emission of
landfill gas into the atmosphere. Anaerobic digestion is a renewable energy source because the process
produces Methane and Carbon dioxide rich biogas suitable for energy production and helps replace
fossil fuels. Also, the nutrient-rich solids left after digestion can be used as fertilizer.

An anaerobic Digester contains a synergistic community of microorganisms to carry out the process of
fermenting organic matter into methane.4

The Anaerobic Biodegradation Process

Let’s take a detailed look at the process of anaerobic biodegradation. There are a number of bacteria
that are involved in the process of anaerobic digestion including acetic acid-forming bacteria and
methane-forming bacteria. These bacteria feed upon the initial feedstock, which undergoes a number of
different processes converting it to intermediate molecules including sugars, hydrogen & acetic acid
before finally being converted to biogas.

The process begins with bacterial hydrolysis of the input materials in order to break down insoluble
organic polymers such as carbohydrates and make them available for other bacteria. Acidogenic
bacteria then convert the sugars and amino acids into carbon dioxide, hydrogen , ammonia , and organic
acid. Acetogenic bacteria then convert these resulting organic acids into acetic acid, along with
additional ammonia, hydrogen, and carbon dioxide. Methanogen finally are able to convert these
products to methane and carbon dioxide.

Anaerobic Biodegradation Stages

There are four key biological and chemical stages of anaerobic digestion:

1) Hydrolysis: In most cases biomass is made up of large organic polymers. In order for the
bacteria in anaerobic digesters to access the energy potential of the material, these chains must
first be broken down into their smaller constituent parts. These constituent parts or monomers
such as sugars are readily available by other bacteria (fats, carbohydrates, protein and
cellulose). The process of breaking these chains and dissolving the smaller molecules into
solution is called hydrolysis. Therefore hydrolysis of these high molecular weight polymeric
components is the necessary first step in anaerobic digestion. Through hydrolysis the complex
organic molecules are broken down into simple sugars, amino acids, and fatty acids. Acetate and
hydrogen produced in the first stages can be used directly by methanogens. Other remaining
molecules such as volatile fatty acids (VFA’s) with a chain length that is greater than acetate
must first be catabolised into compounds before they can be directly utilized by methanogens
(see Appendix C).
2) Acidogenesis: The biological process of acidogenesis is where there is further breakdown of the
remaining components by acidogenic (fermentative) bacteria. Here the microbial process

4
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_digestion
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metabolizes hydrolyzed organic material into organic acids and H2, CO2 and other by-products.
The process of acidogenesis is similar to the way that milk sours (see Appendix C).
3) Acetogenesis: The third stage of anaerobic digestion is acetogenesis . Here simple molecules
created through the acidogenesis phase are further digested by acetogens to produce acetic
acid, carbon dioxide and hydrogen (see Appendix C).
4) Methanogenesis: The final stage of anaerobic digestion is the biological process of
methanogenesis. This is where methanogens utilize the intermediate products of the preceding
stages and convert them into CH4 (methane), CO2 (carbon dioxide) and H2O (water). It is after
this stage that biogas can be collected for energy production (see Appendix C).

Landfill Decomposition Cycle

Aerobic Phase (first few days in landfill) - Period when aerobic microbes are becoming
established and moisture is building up in the refuse. While standard plastic absorption
capability is relatively small, Bio-Batch additive causes further swelling, weakening the
polymer bonds and creating molecular spaces where moisture and microbial growth can
rapidly begin the aerobic degradation process. Oxygen is replaced with CO2.

Anaerobic, Non-methanogenic Phase (roughly 2 weeks to 6 months) - After O2


concentrations have declined sufficiently, the anaerobic processes begin. During the
initial stage (hydrolysis), the microbe colonies eat the particulates, and through an
enzymatic process, solubilize large polymers down into simpler monomers. The secreted
monomers mix with the organic additive, causing additional swelling and opening of the
polymer chain and increased quorum sensing. This further excites the microbes to
increase their colonization and consumption of the polymer chain. As time progresses,
acidogenesis occurs where the simple monomers are converted into fatty acids. CO2
production occurs rapidly at this stage.

Anaerobic, Methanogenic Unsteady Phase (6 to 18 months) - The microbe colonies


continue to grow, eating away at the polymer chain and creating increasingly larger
molecular spaces. During this phase, acetogenesis occurs where fatty acids are
converted into acetic acid, carbon dioxide and hydrogen. As this process continues, CO2
rates decline and H2 production eventually ceases.

Anaerobic, Methanogenic Steady Phase (1 year to 5 years) - The final stage of


decomposition involves methanogensis. As colonies of microbes continue to eat away at
the remaining surface of the polymer, acetates are converted into methane and carbon
dioxide, while hydrogen is consumed. The process continues until the only remaining
element is humus. This highly nutritional soil creates and improved environment for the
microbes and enhances the final stage of decomposition.5

Environmental Benefit

Utilizing the anaerobic biodegradation process within landfills has many benefits. The United Nations
Development Program has recognized anaerobic digestion facilities as one of the most useful

5
http://www.biogreenplastic.com/landfill.php
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decentralized sources of energy supply. Utilizing anaerobic digestion technologies can help to reduce
the emission of greenhouse gases and improve environmental conditions in a number of key ways:

• Energy Production – by replacing fossil fuels


• Combat Global Warming – by reducing methane emission from landfills
• Nutrient Recovery – by displacing industrially-produced chemical fertilizers
• Reducing electrical grid transportation losses
• Conserve Land
• Pathogen Reduction
• Waste Reduction

Methane and power produced in anaerobic digestion facilities can be utilized to replace energy derived
from fossil fuels, and hence reduce emissions of greenhouse gases. This is due to the fact that the
carbon in biodegradable material is part of a carbon cycle. The carbon released into the atmosphere
from the combustion of biogas has been removed by plants in order for them to grow in the recent past.
This can have occurred within the last decade, but more typically within the last growing season. If the
plants are re-grown, taking the carbon out of the atmosphere once more, the system will be carbon
neutral. This contrasts to carbon in fossil fuels that has been sequestered in the earth for many millions
of years, the combustion of which increases the overall levels of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere.

Dr. Chong from York University:

“Microbes could provide a clean, renewable energy source and use up carbon dioxide in the
process, suggested Dr. James Chong at a Science Media Centre press briefing.

“Methanogens are microbes called archaea that are similar to bacteria. They are responsible for
the vast majority of methane produced on earth by living things”. “They use carbon dioxide to
make methane, the major flammable component of natural gas. So methanogens could be used
to make a renewable, carbon neutral gas substitute.”

Methanogens produce about one billion tonnes of methane every year. They thrive in oxygen-
free environments like the guts of cows and sheep, humans and even termites. They are widely
distributed in nature living in swamps, bogs, natural waters sewage processing plants and
6
landfills.”

What is better for the environment professional composting or bioreactors?

There have been a number of studies conducted to compare the environmental impact of professional
composting vs. landfill bioreactors. In these studies, the potential environmental impacts associated
with aerobic composting and bioreactor landfills were assessed using the life cycle inventory (LCI)
tool. The results are fairly the same across the studies performed. These studies concluded that the
emissions to air and water that contribute to human toxicity are greater for the composting option than
for the landfill option and the landfill option yields greater energy savings due to the conversion of the
landfill gas (LFG) to electrical energy.

6
http://www.lockergnome.com/news/2007/12/10/methane-from-microbes-a-fuel-for-the-future/
© All rights reserved LANDFILL BIODEGRADATION
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Are Plastics Biodegradable?

Plastics are known as hydro-carbons, meaning they are made mostly from hydrogen and carbon
atoms. Plastics have been designed to keep out oxygen so that the food product inside is preserved
from naturally biodegrading/rotting. Oxygen is an extremely permeable atom and can make its way into
just about any type of barrier (including plastics). Plastics have been also been engineered for high
strength which is why traditional plastics take thousands of years for microbes to break it down into
biogases and biomass.

Biodegradable plastics on the other hand, are plastics engineered to decompose in the natural
environment. Biodegradation of plastics can be achieved by enabling microbes in the
environment to metabolize the molecular structure of plastic films and produce an inert humus
material and biogases. Biodegradable plastics, or bio-plastics as they are known, are plastics
whose components are derived from either renewable raw materials, or petroleum based
plastics with a biodegradable additive.

One such technology is manufactured by Bio-tec Environmental. This additive, EcoPure, uses
organic compounds to open the polymer chain, and attractants to stimulate microbial
colonization on the plastic. Once the polymer chain is open the microbes can use the carbon
chain as a source of food and energy. This biodegradation is happening at the atomic level and
during which anaerobic microbes produce CO2, CH4 and inert humus. Many of these products
will degrade in a landfill to provide CO2 and CH4 that can be captured and burned to create
clean inexpensive energy.

It is very important when discussing biodegradable plastics to understand the definition and
process of biodegradation. This term has been grossly misused and misunderstood. By
definition, plastics that fragment, or degrade through chemical and/or mechanical processes
are not biodegradable. They are simply degradable and very often leave metals, toxins and
polymer residue in the environment.

Note: Plastics which biodegrade by microbes do not leave behind any polymer residue or toxic materials.

Plastics Degradation Standards

ASTM International, originally known as the American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM),
is one of the largest voluntary standards development organizations in the world - a trusted
source providing technical standards for materials, products, systems, and services. Known for
their high technical quality and market relevancy, ASTM International standards have an
important role in the information infrastructure that guides design, manufacturing and trade in
the global economy.

ASTM International has developed a set of specifications, test methods and guidelines for biodegradable
plastics. Visit the ASTM website at http://www.astm.org.

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ASTM Plastics Degradation Standards

Specifications

• D6400 Standard Specification for Compostable Plastics


• D7081 Standard Specification for Non-floating Biodegradable Plastics in Marine
Environments

Test Methods

• D5247 Standard Test Method for Determining the Aerobic Biodegradability of


Degradable Plastics by Specific Microorganisms
• D5338 Standard Test Method for Determining Aerobic Biodegradation of Plastic
Materials Under Controlled Composting Conditions
• D5511 Standard Test Method for Determining Anaerobic Biodegradation of
Plastic Materials Under High-Solids Anaerobic-Digestion Conditions
• D5526 Standard Test Method for Determining Anaerobic Biodegradation of
Plastic Materials Under Accelerated Landfill Conditions

Summary

Previously, the technical expertise required to maintain anaerobic digesters coupled with high capital
costs and low process efficiencies had limited the level of industrial application as a waste treatment
technology. Anaerobic digestion facilities have, however, been recognized by the United Nations
Development Program as one of the most useful decentralized sources of energy supply.

A bioreactor landfill operates to rapidly transform and degrade organic waste. The increase in waste
degradation and stabilization is accomplished through the addition of liquid to enhance microbial
processes. By efficiently designing and operating a landfill, the life of a landfill can be significantly
extended, leachate is effectively detoxified and greenhouse gases are reduced. Landfill gases such as
methane are fuel sources which are then used for clean energy production.7 Bioreactor landfills offer
many benefits such as:

• Decomposition and biological stabilization in years vs. decades in “dry tombs”


• Lower waste toxicity and mobility due to both aerobic and anaerobic conditions
• Reduced leachate disposal costs and leachate detoxification
• A 15 to 30 percent gain in landfill space due to an increase in density of waste mass
• Increased landfill settlement due to rapid decomposition of waste
• Significant increased LFG generation that, when captured, is used for onsite energy use or sold
• Reduced post-closure activities and care

From an article titled “How microbes can power America’s future” Bruce Logan at Penn State states;

7
http://www.bioreactor.org
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“They found certain microbes that use electricity to convert CO2 and water into
methane. These hydrolysis cells convert electrical energy into energy stored in methane
with 80 percent efficiency.

Technical details of this research appeared in the journal Environmental Science and
Technology, and Professor Logan emphasized the potential environmental benefits in a
separate statement. No extra carbon has to be added to make methane, he writes.

When the gas is burned for fuel, it only lets off as much CO2 as originally went in, saving
utilities from pumping more greenhouse gases into the environment. Furthermore, if
the electricity used in the process comes from solar or wind power, the entire fuel cycle
would not add any extra CO2 to the environment.

“The process does not sequester carbon, but it does turn carbon dioxide into fuel,”
Logan explains. “If the methane is burned and carbon dioxide captured, then the
process can be carbon neutral.”8

Microbes have been an important part of our planet for millions of years. They were the first life forms
on the planet and have been instrumental in creating the life sustaining environment we enjoy today.
Without them our planet would not be able to sustain life. Microbes are found in the deepest depths of
our oceans and the highest peaks of our mountains, they are literally everywhere on our planet,
including landfills.

8
http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/04/03/how-microbes-can-power-america’s-future/
© All rights reserved LANDFILL BIODEGRADATION
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Appendix A: Bio-Chemistry of a Micro-Organism for Biodegradation

Although food contains energy, it is not in a form that can be used by cells. Cellular respiration changes
food energy into a form all cells can use. This energy drives the life processes of almost all organisms on
Earth.

• Oxidation – describes the loss of an electron


• Reduction – describes the gain of an electron
• Respiration – uses electron acceptors to produce reduced compounds

Cellular respiration is the set of the metabolic reactions and processes that take place in organisms'
cells to convert biochemical energy from nutrients into adenosine tri phosphate (ATP), and then release
waste products. The reactions involved in respiration are catabolic reactions that involve the oxidation
of one molecule and the reduction of another.

Nutrients commonly used by animal and plant cells in respiration include glucose, amino acids and fatty
acids, and a common oxidizing agent (electron acceptor) is molecular oxygen (O2). Bacteria organisms
may respire using a broad range of inorganic molecules as electron donors and acceptors, such as sulfur,
metal ions, methane or hydrogen. Organisms that use oxygen as a final electron acceptor in respiration
are described as aerobic, while those that do not are referred to as anaerobic.

When cells do not have enough oxygen for respiration, they use a process called fermentation to release
some of the energy stored in glucose molecules. Like respiration, fermentation begins in the cytoplasm.
Again, as the glucose molecules are broken down, energy is released. But the simple molecules from
the breakdown of glucose do not move into the mitochondria. Instead, more chemical reactions occur
in the cytoplasm. These reactions release some energy and produce wastes, i.e. methane.

The energy released in respiration is used to synthesize ATP to store this energy. The energy stored in
ATP can then be used to drive processes requiring energy, including biosynthesis, locomotion or
transportation of molecules across cell membranes. Because of its ubiquity in nature, ATP is also known
as the "universal energy currency".

Electron Acceptor: Microorganisms such as bacteria obtain energy to grow by


transferring electrons from an electron donor to an electron acceptor. An
electron acceptor is a compound that receives or accepts an electron during
cellular respiration.

The microorganism through its cellular machinery collects the energy for its use.
The process starts with the transfer of an electron from an electron donor. During
this process (electron transport chain) the electron acceptor is reduced and the
electron donor is oxidized.

Examples of acceptors include; oxygen, nitrate, iron (III), manganese (IV), sulfate,
carbon dioxide, or in some cases the chlorinated solvents such as
tetrachloroethene (PCE), trichloroethene (TCE), dichloroethene (DCE), and vinyl
chloride (VC).

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These reactions are of interest not only because they allow organisms to obtain
energy, but also because they are involved in the natural biodegradation of
organic substances.

Electron Donor: Microorganisms, such as bacteria, obtain energy to grow by


transferring electrons from an electron donor to an electron acceptor. An
electron donor is a compound that gives up or donates an electron during cellular
respiration, resulting in the release of energy.

The microorganism through its cellular machinery collects the energy for its use.
The final result is the electron is donated to an electron acceptor. During this
process (Electron Transport Chain) the electron donor is oxidized and the
electron acceptor is reduced.

Petroleum hydrocarbons, less chlorinated solvents like vinyl chloride, soil organic
matter, and reduced inorganic compounds are all compounds that can act as
electron donors. These reactions are of interest not only because they allow
organisms to obtain energy, but also because they are involved in the natural
biodegradation of organic substances.

Note: Aerobic respiration produces 30 ATP compared to the 2 ATP yielded from
anaerobic respiration per glucose molecule.

Electron transfer chain

The electron transfer chain, also called the electron transport chain, is a sequence
of complexes found in the mitochondrial membrane that accept electrons from
electron donors, shuttle these electrons across the mitochondrial membrane
creating an electrical and chemical gradient, and, through the proton driven
chemistry of the ATP synthase, generate adenosine triphosphate.

Adenosine-5'-triphosphate (ATP) is a multifunctional nucleotide, and is most important in cell biology as


a coenzyme that is the "molecular unit of currency" of intracellular energy transfer. In this role, ATP
transports chemical energy within cells for metabolism. It is produced as an energy source during the
processes of photosynthesis and cellular respiration and consumed by many enzymes and a multitude of
cellular processes including biosynthetic reactions, motility and cell division. ATP is made from
adenosine diphosphate (ADP) or adenosine monophosphate (AMP), and its use in metabolism converts
it back into these precursors. ATP is therefore continuously recycled in organisms, with the human body
turning over its own weight in ATP each day.

In signal transduction pathways, ATP is used as a substrate by kinases that phosphorylate proteins and
lipids, as well as by adenylate cyclase, which uses ATP to produce the second messenger molecule cyclic
AMP. The ratio between ATP and AMP is used as a way for a cell to sense how much energy is available
and control the metabolic pathways that produce and consume ATP. Apart from its roles in energy
metabolism and signaling, ATP is also incorporated into nucleic acids by polymerases in the processes of
DNA replication and transcription.

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Note: Aerobic respiration produces 30 ATP compared to the 2 ATP yielded from anaerobic respiration per
glucose molecule. The energy not converted to ATP during anaerobic respiration is unavailable to microbes and
is contained in CH4 (methane) which has stored energy.

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Appendix B: References

Methane to Energy

• Methane to Markets
http://www.methanetomarkets.org/
• Bioreactor.org
http://www.bioreactor.org/
• Solid Waste Association of North America – Waste to Energy Division
http://swana.org/Education/TechnicalDivisions/WastetoEnergy/tabid/108/Default.aspx
• Energy Recovery Council - Waste to Energy
http://www.wte.org/
• Waste-to-Energy Research and Technology Council
http://www.seas.columbia.edu/earth/wtert/index.html
• Biogreen Plastic
http://www.biogreenplastic.com/landfill.php

Methane and Microbe Articles and Books

• Microbes Make the Best Climate Engineers


http://www.universetoday.com/2008/02/01/microbes-make-the-best-climate-engineers/
• Methane from Microbes: A Fuel For The Future
http://www.lockergnome.com/news/2007/12/10/methane-from-microbes-a-fuel-for-the-future/
• Microbes - By Howard Gest
http://books.google.com/books?id=nXfcOvmZ3qsC&pg=PA60&lpg=PA60&dq=landfills+and+microbes+an
d+methane&source=bl&ots=J6AWmc5n4Z&sig=eK8VzeXzWipGPniMA0KyfDS8kRo&hl=en&ei=0E80SqPUJ4
zasgPcuv3BDg&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=2#PPA61,M1
• How microbes can power America’s future
http://features.csmonitor.com/innovation/2009/04/03/how-microbes-can-power-america%E2%80%99s-
future/
• Landfill Methane Recovery
http://www.methanetomarkets.org/resources/factsheets/landfill_eng.pdf
• Wikipedia Anaerobic Digestion
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Anaerobic_digestion

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Appendix C: Tables and Figures

Hydrolysis: A chemical reaction where particulates are solubilized and


large polymers are converted into simpler monomers.

Sugars

H 2O
Amino Acids

Plastic material treated


with

Fatty Acids

Figure 1: Hydrolysis phase of anaerobic biodegradation

Acidogenesis: A biological reaction where simple


monomers are converted into volatile acids.

Carbonic Acids

Hydrogen

Ammonia

Carbon Dioxide

Figure 2: Acidogenesis phase of anaerobic biodegradation

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Acetogenesis: An anaerobic microbial process
where volatile acids are converted into acetic acid,
carbon dioxide, and hydrogen.

Acetic Acid + H2 +
CO2
Carbonic Acid
O
Hydrogen
Carbon Dioxide C H H O C O
Ammonia
H3 C OH

Figure 3: Acetogenesis phase of anaerobic biodegradation

Methanogenesis: This is the final stage in microbial


metabolism when acetate molecules are converted into
methane and carbon dioxide.

O H2

C +
H3C OH
O CO
Acetic Acid Methane Carbon Dioxide

Figure 4: Methanogenesis phase of anaerobic biodegradation

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