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More than beer is brewing

By Chemical Engineering |

This year, the recipient of the Othmer Gold Medal is Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw, chairman and managing director of Biocon Ltd. (Bangalore, India; www.biocon.com). The award, which will be presented at the Chemical Heritage Foundation (CHF; Philadelphia, Pa.; www.chemheritage.org) in May, honors outstanding individuals who have made multifaceted contributions to our chemical and scientific heritage.

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw is a pioneer in India’s biotechnology industry. She was that country’s first female brewmaster, and she went on to create a globally recognized bio-pharma enterprise. As Carsten Reinhardt, president and CEO of CHF said, “Then she used her knowledge of fermentation to become one of the greatest entrepreneurs in the history of her nation.” One of Biocon’s key innovations is the development of Pichia -based (a yeast) recombinant human insulin. The human insulin manufacturing process begins with fermentation.

Fermentation is playing an increasingly important role in the chemical process industries (CPI), and not just for the more traditional products made by that route, such as for the food-and-beverage and pharmaceutical sectors. The CPI are experiencing significant growth in bio-based chemicals (see for example, Bio-Based Chemicals Gain Market Acceptance, Chem. Eng., August 2013, pp. 14–17; and The Bio-Based Economy, Chem. Eng., August 2011, pp. 14–16), and a growing number of new processes are based on fermentation.

In this issue for example, we report on construction that is underway to build a pilot plant for what is believed to be the first fermentation process capable of directly producing isobutene (p. 12). Global Bioenergies (Evry, France; www.global-bioenergies.com) plans to start 500-L pilot operations later this year, and to scale up the fermenter next year. In our January issue, we reported on a new process for making lactic acid from palm waste ( Chem. Eng., January 2014, pp. 9–11) in a process that uses fermentation.

While new bio-based innovations seemingly continue to flourish, the use of fermentation in novel biological pathways to make high-value chemicals has already matured to production scale. A noteworthy example is the bio-based 1,4-butanediol (BDO) process developed by Genomatica Inc. (San Diego, Calif.; www.genomatica.com) — the winner of our most recent Kirkpatrick Chemical Engineering Achievement Award. Genomatica produced BDO at commercial scale using renewable feedstocks for the first time, via large-scale fermentation and recovery (for more on this winning achievement, see 42nd Kirkpatrick Award Announced, Chem. Eng. November 2013, pp. 14–19). And, in November 2013, BASF SE (Ludwigshafen, Germany; www.basf.com) reported that it produced its first commercial quantities of BDO using Genomatica’s fermentation technology.

As fermentation broadens its reach as a route to commercial-scale chemical production, it becomes more important to learn about fermentation scaleup and some of the unique challenges it brings. This month’s feature report on Mass Transfer in Fermentation Scaleup (pp. 44–47) focuses on the mass transfer aspect of the process, which is often a limiting factor in aerobic fermentation. It is a complementary article to Heat Transfer for Huge Scale Fermentation ( Chem. Eng., November 2013, pp.44–46) that examines the heat transfer challenges in scaling up fermentation processes.

Dorothy Lozowski, Editor in Chief

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