Environmental Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering
Fraunhofer Institute for Interfacial Engineering and Biotechnology
The activities of the Environmental Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering Department are focused on the development of processes for the sustainable production of organic bulk chemicals and the generation of energy from organic raw materials, residuals and waste products. Ideally, this can be coupled with the recovery of inorganic by-products for reuse as fertilizers, and, where possible, the treatment of intrinsic process water. We generally use anaerobic methods to treat organic residuals such as biodegradable waste or sewage sludge, as these allow commercially viable generation of biogas as a regenerative source of energy.
The core competence of the department is developing robust and ecologically efficient biotechnological processes for the production of basic chemicals for use either as raw materials or as sources of energy (methane, ethanol, methanol). We understand “robust bioprocesses” as processes that are resistant to contaminations and thus can be operated continuously under aseptic (non-sterile) conditions. The key to these processes is always microbiological fundamentals such as the growth and degradation kinetics of the different organisms concerned. Hereby, our processing activities extend from the planning, initial operation and optimization of laboratory and pilot plants to the planning, construction, and commissioning of technical demonstration plants together with our industrial partners. Intelligent combination of the unit operations of mechanical and chemical process engineering (including downstream processing) with bioprocesses using modeling and simulation methods gives us a unique selling point, as does our expertise in the targeted colonization and depletion of microorganisms on surfaces.
- Both classic and “continuous” high-throughput screening methods for autochthonic production strains as high potentials for robust sustainable processes or opening up new product lines
- Batch, fed-batch and continuous fermentation processes, including those involving partial or total cell retention
- Psychrophilic, mesophilic and thermophilic bioprocesses
- Anaerobic digestion technology for isolating and maintaining new strains
- Cultivation of microalgae in flat-panel airlift photobioreactors
- Microbiological characterization of surfaces using standard processes and application-oriented processes, including development of testing procedures
- Development of real-time processes for monitoring water systems for impurities
- Modeling of processes and simulation of process lines
- Scale-up of stable processes and scale-down of unstable process states to help solve problems during technical operation
- Downstream processing technologies such as membrane-based filtration processes, liquid-liquid extraction, and extraction with supercritical media
- Holistic models for energy, waste, and water management
The use of anaerobic biocatalysts to produce bulk chemicals or energy carriers has the advantage of a 90 percent carbon source-to-product yield. The drawback of lower growth rates compared with aerobic organisms can be compensated by process engineering. The use of rapidly growing photoautotrophic cells (microalgae) also leads to comparatively higher productivities than is achievable with terrestrial plants. Further benefits are lower water requirements and the possibility of a water-based production of algae.
The Environmental Biotechnology and Bioprocess Engineering Department is thus in a position to take part in solving socio-political challenges such as the greenhouse effect, energy supply and freshwater shortage. By offering sustainable technology options, the department can help industry, communities and policymakers design a balanced future. Combining our competence with that of other Fraunhofer IGB departments, we serve the needs of the chemical, energy and environmental business sectors.
- New wastewater purification methods
- Biotechnological purification processes for industrial wastewater
- Development of utilization concepts for both organic and inorganic residual materials
- Development of system concepts for bioenergy management at regional level
- Digestion processes to produce biogas from a range of organic substrates
- Development of photoautotrophic processes for microalgae and cyanobacteria in flat-panel airlift reactors
- Biotransformation of renewable raw materials and industrial waste materials into basic chemicals
- Development of processes for the isolation, separation and purification of biotechnically manufactured products
- Assessment of microbial contamination on surfaces and in media involved in processing
Infrastructure, laboratory and technical equipment
- Bioreactors of various types and sizes (laboratory, pilot and technical scale)
- Mobile membrane bioreactors for wastewater treatment
- Pilot plant for environmental and bioprocess engineering applications
- Test plants for different membrane processes (e.g. rotating disk filtration)
- Mobile pilot plants in m3-scale to generate basic engineering data in situ for the planning of innovative demonstration plants
- Equipment for handling pathogenic organisms and the corresponding approvals