Biotechnology Journal, 10(8): 1206-1215
Developments in synthetic biology enabled the microbial production of long chain hydrocarbons, which can be used as advanced biofuels in aviation or transportation. Currently, these fuels are not economically competitive due to their production costs. The current process offers room for improvement: by utilizing lignocellulosic feedstock, increasing microbial yields, and using cheaper process technology. Gravity separation is an example of the latter, for which droplet growth by coalescence is crucial. The aim of this study was to study the effect of fermentation broth components on droplet coalescence. Droplet coalescence was measured using two setups: a microfluidic chip and regular laboratory scale stirred vessel (2 L). Some fermentation broth components had a large impact on droplet coalescence. Especially components present in hydrolysed cellulosic biomass and mannoproteins from the yeast cell wall retard coalescence. To achieve a technically feasible gravity separation that can be integrated with the fermentation, the negative effects of these components on coalescence should be minimized. This could be achieved by redesign of the fermentation medium or adjusting the fermentation conditions, aiming to minimize the release of surface active components by the microorganisms. This way, another step can be made towards economically feasible advanced biofuel production.