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Mass Transfer in Fermentation Scaleup

By Jim Gregory and Bob Green, Fluor;
Nicolle Courtemanche and Richard Kehn, SPX Flow Technology, Lightnin |

How big can a fermenter get? And what would the biggest fermenter look like? The answers to these questions depend upon how the requirements of heat transfer, mass transfer (gas-to-liquid), and momentum transfer (mixing) are met. In an earlier article (Heat Transfer for Huge-Scale Fermentation, Chem. Eng., November 2013, pp. 44–46) the authors described how heat-transfer requirements can cause jackets to become ineffective at large scale, which drives the need for external heat exchangers. This article examines the issues that arise with mass and momentum transfer at huge scales. The concerns associated with mass transfer at huge scales also influence the type and size of pilot- and demonstration-plant facilities that are used in scaleup. Many useful chemicals can be produced by microbes that require oxygen to grow. An aerobic fermenter is used to grow these microbes and create the right conditions for them to produce these chemicals. This type of fermenter is essentially a mass transfer device that promotes the transfer of oxygen from gas bubbles into the liquid medium where the microbes live. Often the rate of oxygen transfer is the limiting factor in the whole manufacturing process. That is why maximum oxygen-transfer rate…
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