Bioproduct Separations

Capability Title Bioproduct separations
Laboratory National Renewable Energy Laboratory (NREL)
Capability experts Eric Karp and Gregg Beckham
Description  NREL’s bioproduct separations laboratory contains several instruments for the recovery and purification of products produced from the fermentation of renewable resources.

  1. In-situ product recovery system. NREL is developing online separations for fermentations that could allow a 10-fold decrease in fermenter working volumes, and significant increases in microorganism productivity compared to standard batch operation. This instrument (In-Situ Product Recovery or ISPR) operates using liquid-liquid extraction technology with membrane contacting units. This system is mobile and can be operated on fermentations with volumes up to 10 L.
  2. Non-thermal dewatering chromatography

Bioproducts are often produced in dilute aqueous environments with maximum concentrations around 10 wt. %. Thus, the large amount water present makes traditional approaches for recovery via distillation energetically unfavorable or impossible. R&D efforts at NREL are aimed at developing novel solid adsorption approaches to dewater dilute product streams. New resins and eluents are being developed with thermally integrated Simulated Moving Bed (SMB) systems to achieve complete dewatering while reducing energy requirements over 55% from that required in conventional distillation. Today, NREL holds automated batch column chromatography capabilities to test resins and scale approaches to process up to 10 L volumes.

  1. Spinning band distillation. After dewatering, recovered products often need additional purification steps for high purity applications (e.g., polymers). To that end, NREL holds advanced distillation capability in a spinning band system. With approximately 30 theoretical stages the spinning band distillation system is ideal for bench scale product purification and distillation development. 
Limitations Separations equipment is designed to reasonably handle fermentation volumes up to 10 L.
Unique aspects These systems at NREL allow for scalable downstream process development using up to 10 L fermentation volumes. Strategies for cell and protein removal, product dewatering, and purification can be tailored to nearly any biologically produced intermediate.
Availability  The separations equipment above is available as a resource to NREL researchers, collaborators and outside organizations.
Citations/references  None