Propionic acid (PA) production from agro-industrial residues using propionibacteria has gained interest as an alternative to fossil-based process. Microbial production is however characterized by product inhibition, lowering the product titers and productivity. In this study, Propionibacterium acidipropionici DSMZ4900 was subjected to adaptive evolution to tolerate higher acid concentrations. The strain adapted to growth in medium spiked with 20 g/L PA exhibited improved product titer (16.8 vs 8.72 g/L) and productivity (0.52 vs 0.17 g/L·h) with glycerol as carbon source in batch fermentations. It was immobilized on polyethyleneimine coated recycled glass beads Poraver® and used for fermentations in recycle batch mode with increasing glycerol concentration and decreasing pH, respectively. Doubling yeast extract concentration raised PA yield and productivity by >1.5 fold. Glycerol at 100 g/L was completely consumed to give ∼58 g/L PA at yield of 0.64 mol/mol and productivity of 0.28 g/L·h at pH 6.5. Decreasing fermentation pH to 5.0 increased PA productivity to 0.23 g/L·h from 0.14 g/L·h at pH 6.0 with 20 g/L glycerol, while immobilized cells exhibited no growth. The study shows combination of adaptive evolution and immobilization of cells to result in a robust system for PA fermentation at high glycerol concentration and lower pH.
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