Synthesis and analysis of separation networks for the recovery of intracellular chemicals generated from microbial-based conversions

Kirti M. Yenkie, Wenzhao Wu, Christos T. Maravelias

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

18 Scopus citations


Background: Bioseparations can contribute to more than 70% in the total production cost of a bio-based chemical, and if the desired chemical is localized intracellularly, there can be additional challenges associated with its recovery. Based on the properties of the desired chemical and other components in the stream, there can be multiple feasible options for product recovery. These options are composed of several alternative technologies, performing similar tasks. The suitability of a technology for a particular chemical depends on (1) its performance parameters, such as separation efficiency; (2) cost or amount of added separating agent; (3) properties of the bioreactor effluent (e.g., biomass titer, product content); and (4) final product specifications. Our goal is to first synthesize alternative separation options and then analyze how technology selection affects the overall process economics. To achieve this, we propose an optimization-based framework that helps in identifying the critical technologies and parameters. Results: We study the separation networks for two representative classes of chemicals based on their properties. The separation network is divided into three stages: cell and product isolation (stage I), product concentration (II), and product purification and refining (III). Each stage exploits differences in specific product properties for achieving the desired product quality. The cost contribution analysis for the two cases (intracellular insoluble and intracellular soluble) reveals that stage I is the key cost contributor (>70% of the overall cost). Further analysis suggests that changes in input conditions and technology performance parameters lead to new designs primarily in stage I. Conclusions: The proposed framework provides significant insights for technology selection and assists in making informed decisions regarding technologies that should be used in combination for a given set of stream/product properties and final output specifications. Additionally, the parametric sensitivity provides an opportunity to make crucial design and selection decisions in a comprehensive and rational manner. This will prove valuable in the selection of chemicals to be produced using bioconversions (bioproducts) as well as in creating better bioseparation flow sheets for detailed economic assessment and process implementation on the commercial scale.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number119
JournalBiotechnology for Biofuels
Issue number1
StatePublished - May 8 2017
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Applied Microbiology and Biotechnology
  • General Energy
  • Biotechnology
  • Management, Monitoring, Policy and Law
  • Renewable Energy, Sustainability and the Environment


  • Cost contribution
  • Downstream separation
  • Optimization
  • Physical property
  • Technology selection
  • Threshold value


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