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Heat Transfer for Huge-Scale Fermentation

By Jim Gregory and Bob Green Fluor |

Industrial microbiology continues to hold the promise of producing an increasingly large array of commercially important chemicals because an ever-wider number of useful microbes is being developed and successfully deployed at commercially viable scales. Today, many of these bio-based chemicals are needed in quantities so large that existing fermentation technology is inadequate, and this is pushing the envelope in terms of the size of today’s largest-scale fermenters. Currently, aerobic fermenters exist up to about 100,000 gal. Fermenters ten times bigger are needed. This challenge raises a number of important engineering questions: How big can a fermenter get? Is there a limit, in terms of economies of scale, above which the use of additional units is the preferred option for gaining additional capacity? What does a “huge-scale” fermenter look like? How big do demonstration-plant fermenters need to be to justify building the full-scale plant? What testing is required at small scale to support the full-scale design? This article on heat transfer in huge fermenters is intended to offer answers to these questions. Huge-scale projects also face issues related to mass transfer, momentum transfer, cleaning and sterilization,…
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