The fermentation of syngas (a mixture of CO, CO2 and H2) to produce ethanol is of interest as an alternative fuel. Clostridium carboxidivorans, has been found to produce higher than average amounts of ethanol and butanol from CO-rich mixtures. This project sought to determine the effects of the redox level in the solution, partial pressures in the headspace and mass transfer limitations on the products obtained through fermentation of syngas. It was determined that cysteine sulfide has a greater effect on the redox level of the media used to grow bacteria, than does the gas composition. Therefore, changing gas composition during the process will have little effect on the redox. However, addition of cysteine sulfide may vary the redox level. When cells were first inoculated, the redox level dropped and leveled at -200 mV SHE for optimal growth. In addition, cells switch from acetic acid to ethanol production after a drop of 40-70 mV in the redox level. Different sizes of reactors were used, including 1 liter reactors (non-pressurized), 50 mL bottles (20 psig) and 100 mL bottles (20 psig). The 50 mL bottles have more than double the growth rate than the 100 mL bottles (0.57 day-1 compared to 0.20 day-1). Partial pressures were measured in these two sizes to determine the different consumptions and the effect of partial pressure on both growth and production of acetic acid/ethanol. It is clear that re-gassing the bottles every 12 hours to keep the pressure higher in the 100 mL bottles makes a significant difference in the growth, making them very similar to the 50 mL bottles. Both the 50 mL and 100 mL bottle were found to have essentially the same mass transfer rate (0.227 L/hr vs. 0.255 L/hr). However, because of headspace differences, there was more CO available for the 50 mL bottles (on a per liter basis) as compared to the 100 mL bottles. Mass transfer analysis proved useful in pointing out that all three reactors likely experienced mass transfer limitations such that mass transfer effects are critical to address when performing studies involving syngas fermentation.



College and Department

Ira A. Fulton College of Engineering and Technology; Chemical Engineering



Date Submitted


Document Type





Ethanol, Syngas Fermentation, Pressure, Mass Transfer, Clostridium, Redox