The effect of the particulate phase on coal biosolubilisation mediated by Trichoderma atroviride in a slurry bioreactor

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Fuel Processing Technology

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University of Cape Town

Low rank coal is currently under-utilised because of its low calorific value and high moisture and sulphur content. Its solubilisation by both bacterial and fungal cultures has been reported, the latter more commonly. Coal biosolubilisation processes have potential to convert low rank coal to either a clean, cost-effective energy source or complex aromatic compounds for biocatalytic conversion to value-added products. This can lead to an increased utilisation of low rank coal. In this study, the key variables of the slurry that affect biosolubilisation of low rank coal by Trichoderma atroviride in submerged culture were investigated. Results showed that the key operating variables that influence coal biosolubilisation in the slurry bioreactor are coal loading and particle size affecting available surface area. These factors affect the surface area available for coal biosolubilisation. The optimum coal loading occurred between 5 and 10% (w/v); an increase above this optimum led to inhibition of the fungal culture of T. atroviride (ES11) by fragmentation of the fungal mycelium. A decrease in particle size fraction led to an increase in the degree of coal solubilisation. Coal biosolubilisation was shown to increase 4-fold when particle size was decreased from 600–850 μm to 150–300 μm. A 28% biosolubilisation of coal of 150–300 μm, characterised by a surface specific area of 2.17 cm2 g−1 , was measured as coal weight loss over 14 days at solids loading at 5%. This can be compared with a 7.8% coal weight loss at 600–850 μm diameters (0.54 cm2 g−1 ). Soluble phenolic compounds are not a significant product of the coal biosolubilisation process. The change in pH observed in the presence of both coal and fungi was independent of coal loading and was not directly related to the extent of coal solubilisation. While soluble intermediates were observed as total organic, further metabolism resulted in complete oxidation of a significant fraction of the coal to CO2.