Through the Organism’s eyes

The interaction between hydrodynamics and metabolic dynamics in industrial-scale fermentation processes

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The broth in industrial scale fermentors may contain significant gradients in, for example, substrate concentration, dissolved oxygen and shear rates. From the perspective of microbes in this fermentor, these gradients translate to temporal variations in their environment that may affect their metabolic response. As a result, there may be differences in process yield between laboratory scale fermentations and their industrial counterpart. Rather than scaling-up bioprocesses based on equivalence, it is recommended to scale-down: mimic the large-scale environment in lab scale setups, to account for hydrodynamic-metabolic interaction from the start. In this thesis, the use of Euler-Lagrange computational fluid dynamics to capture the large-scale fermentation environment is explored. Lagrangian simulations offer to study processes from the microbial perspective (so-called “lifelines”), and enable coupling of metabolic models describing the response to external variations. With this, it is possible to take the history of the trajectory of the microbe into account, as organisms may not adapt to their surroundings instantaneously. Guidelines for the setup of fermentor simulations are presented, and several means for processing the lifelines are discussed. The obtained information is used to design lab-scale fermentations that mimic large-scale conditions. It is furthermore shown how coupled hydrodynamic-metabolic simulations can be used to predict yield-loss, assess process improvements, and study the onset of population heterogeneity in large-scale fermentors. Additionally, a more fundamental towards the role of the turbulent Schmidt number in multi-impeller mixing is included.