Universität Innsbruck

Biogas and proteins from wastes

Development and improvement of biogas plants

A new type of small-scale biogas plants involving a patented Thermo-Gas-Lift was developed. An agricultural biogas plant constructed at the Agricultural School in Rotholz was constructed. Based on this technology, the spin-off company BIO4GAS GmbH was founded. Based on optimization research, a BIO4GAS plant has been set in operation in Garmisch, Germany, and another one using olive mill residues is now being built in Puglia, Italy. The expertise in Biogas technology is now used for a development project in Burkina Faso (West Africa), where a pilot biogas plant is being installed that shall be the basis for rural development. The fermenter performance of the largest fermenter in western Austria was successfully improved to increase its gas production and it was possible to develop new methods for proofing the successful in situ inactivation of anaerobic pathogens within a given hydraulic retention time.

Development and improvement of biogas plants

A new type of small-scale biogas plants involving a patented Thermo-Gas-Lift was developed. An agricultural biogas plant constructed at the Agricultural School in Rotholz was constructed. Based on this technology, the spin-off company BIO4GAS GmbH was founded. Based on optimization research, a BIO4GAS plant has been set in operation in Garmisch, Germany, and another one using olive mill residues is now being built in Puglia, Italy. The expertise in Biogas technology is now used for a development project in Burkina Faso (West Africa), where a pilot biogas plant is being installed that shall be the basis for rural development. The fermenter performance of the largest fermenter in western Austria was successfully improved to increase its gas production and it was possible to develop new methods for proofing the successful in situ inactivation of anaerobic pathogens within a given hydraulic retention time.

Anaerobic biotechnology

In 2008 a biogas demonstration plant has been built in Rotholz (see section on applied microbiology). The start-up procedure of the biogas plant was optimized based on 75-liter-fermenters and in situ studies. New substrate combinations were tested. At the same time, based on the COMPOCHIP, the development of an ANAEROCHIP for archaea and a BACCHIP for anaerobic bacteria was started. The new microarrays are used in most biogas projects and shall aid in the future the understanding and controlling of biogas plants.

Insect biotechnology

Recently, Black Soldier Fly (BSF; Hermetia illucens) larvae have received increased scientific attention for their potential in circular waste management. In particular, two environmental concerns were addressed – waste management and protein supplementation. By recycling a vast array of organic wastes with one of the highest feed-conversion ratios and growth rates known among insects, BSF larvae are presumed to be true biodegradation workhorses. They digest, aerate, and dry the organic waste and are capable of reducing potentially harmful bacteria. Full-grown BSF larvae have high contents in proteins (37 − 63% of dry matter) and fat (7 − 39% of dry matter) making them a high-quality and potentially profitable feedstuff for livestock production. However, the metabolic competences of an organism in terms of substrate degradation are tightly connected to the structure and composition of its gut microbiota and should be robust against extrinsic disturbances.

The researchers of our interdisciplinary BSF team unites both microbiologists and ecologists with zoological background, including national and international partners. We have set up a steady and stable BSF laboratory population here at our institute and optimized breeding and oviposition conditions for BSF in small-scale artificial habitats. Results of this optimization process are published open access in Heussler et al. (2018).  In feeding experiments, we investigated the impact of different diets (eg. chickenfeed, grass cuttings, fruits and vegetables) on the microbial community composition in the gut of developing larvae. Results of these studies will be published soon.

The ongoing Top Citizen Science project “Six-legged livestock: Rearing Black Soldier Fly on communal “Biowaste”” is proposed as a meaningful complement to university research.  Citizens, who do not primarily work in the fields of science will be supported by scientists and experts, which in turn will enable us to yield a deep pool of data. By conducting feeding experiments with BSF larvae at their homes using their daily incurring communal “biowaste”, people will get a deeper understanding of the insect’s life-cycle and development. At the same time, by getting in touch with edible insects, participants will lose their prejudice. This, however, will increase the public acceptance of insect based nutrition.