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Production of Chemical Building Blocks and Biopolymers

Microbial process development and scale-up

Chemical synthesis, with its use of partially toxic reagents and solvents as well as high energy consumption, is in direct conflict with the sustainable handling of energy and raw material resources. Meanwhile, a large variety of chemicals can be efficiently produced by microbial fermentation. They are used for example as building blocks for polymers, food supplements, and ingredients for cosmetics. Complex biopolymers have the potential to replace fossil-derived plastics in the future.

Strain and process characterization

Process development is a key element in the creation of improved, more rapid and lower-cost methods for producing target products. Through feeding strategies and optimization of process parameters, bioprocess engineers ensure authentic fermentation conditions in small scale, making it possible to mimic production-like conditions.

The team of Professor Wittmann at the University of Saarbruecken used engineered Corynebacterium glutamicum strains for the production of the compatible solute ectoine and the polyamide building block 1,5-diaminopentane. The researchers optimized culture conditions in a DASGIP® Parallel Bioreactor System and established high density, fed-batch processes which delivered high titers of the desired chemicals at high yield.

Researchers at Praj Industries set up a microbial hyaluronic acid (HA) production process using the BioFlo® 120 controller. HA is a polymer industrially produced for a variety of biomedical applications and cosmetics. Download application note (PDF)

Lars Blank’s team at RWTH Aachen University have optimized a production process for itaconate using a genetically engineered strain of the fungus Ustilago maydis. Itaconate is used as a building block for the production of pharmaceuticals and adhesives, as a copolymer for synthetic resins, and is a promising starting material for biofuel production. Download application note (PDF)

Process automation

Through automation, bioprocess equipment can be used more efficiently, as processes become independent of laboratory operating times. Also, it reduces the risk for man-made errors.

Researchers at TU Wien developed a soft sensor for biomass determination and integrated it with a DASbox® Mini Bioreactor System . With feeds and outflows of the parallel fermentors being quantified using standard online measurements, the software calculates the biomass based on a data model.


The scale-up of fermentation processes is critical to the success of industrial fermentation for the production of biopolymers. To determine suitable parameters and setpoints, critical scalability-related engineering parameters need to be considered. These include proportional vessel/impeller geometry, oxygen transfer rate (OTR), impeller power numbers (Np) and impeller power consumption per volume (P/V). Computer fluid dynamics (CFD) simulation can help predicting power numbers and fluid flow conditions.

Process engineers at Biotrend® (Portugal) optimized a wheat straw hydrolysate fermentation to produce PHB in B. sacchari and successfully scaled up the process 100-fold using a BioFlo 610 fermentation system.

„The BioFlo range of fermentors enables unrivaled flexibility and performance for advanced process development and scale-up activities.”, summarizes Bruno Sommer Ferreira, PhD, CEO Biotrend.


In large-scale industrial bioprocesses, the presence of gradients in critical process parameters, such as dissolved oxygen (DO), pH, and substrate concentration, can be observed. They result in inhomogeneous growth conditions within the bioreactor/fermentor and can affect cell yield and/or productivity. Scale-down approaches at the laboratory scale are a tool to analyze the effects of the inhomogeneity.

Scientists at the Forschungszentrum Jülich (Research Center Jülich) have been using a cultivation set-up consisting of two connected stirred-tank reactors (STRs) to simulate inhomogeneous cultivation conditions as they can occur in production scale. This study exemplifies the benefits of flexible bench-scale bioreactor solutions and advanced bioprocess control software.


The bio-based economy aims at a resource-efficient and sustainable production of goods and the sustainable use of renewable resources for industrial purposes.

French HTS Bio offers products and services in the field of environmental biotechnology. The researchers investigate production of microorganisms and biosurfactants, scaling up their processes using autoclavable and sterilize-in-place fermentors.


To make biofuels such as bioethanol and biodiesel competitive with fossil fuels extensive process development efforts are needed. Taking into account the special requirements of biofuel production, such as high temperatures, multi-step procedures, and anaerobic conditions, effective tools for streamlining development efforts must be provided.