Professor Freda Hawkes is a biochemist married to an engineer, a useful basis for interdisciplinary work. Her particular interest in microbial bioenergetics started with her PhD in photosynthetic bacteria in Bristol University over 30 years ago. After joining the institution that is now the University of Glamorgan in 1970, her research moved to anaerobic digestion and she has been involved in many collaborative projects at lab and full scale involving animal manures and food and textile industry wastewaters. Methane production from organic matter involves a consortium of naturally-occurring bacteria acting as a food chain. In applications of this technology for pollution reduction and biofuel production, it is important to maintain operational parameters which allow balanced microbial interactions. This has been the focus of her work in anaerobic digestion.
Hydrogen is an important metabolite in inter-species interactions in anaerobic digestion, and in the last decade her interest has moved to dark fermentative hydrogen production. Like anaerobic digestion, this can be accomplished using naturally-occurring, mixed microflora, but here various populations compete rather than co-operate. Her most recent research concentrated on parameters which allow hydrogen-producing bacteria (most often Clostridia) to flourish at the expense of bacteria which can consume hydrogen.