Coupled Microbial-Conversion and Computational-Fluid-Dynamics (CFD) Models for Butanediol Production in Micro-Aerated Reactors

Hari Sitaraman, James Lischeske, Mohammad Rahimi, Yannick Bomble, Peter St. John, Chao Wu, Jonathan Stickel

Research output: NRELPresentation


Microbial conversion of substrates to macromolecules has been widely used in the synthesis of value-added products in pharmaceutical and biotechnology industries. These bioreactions are also being investigated in the production of low-value commodities such as biofuels [1]. Gas-liquid mass-transfer and transport-reaction coupling are important challenges when designing and scaling up these reactor systems. Experiments in wellmixed small-scale reactors have enabled characterization of microbial reactivity, while their coupling with macroscale transport remains relatively unexplored. In this work, we use a coupled metabolic-CFD model to study the action of a genetically engineered microbe Zymomonas mobilis [2] on sugars to produce 2,3-Butanediol (BDO). BDO is an important hydrocarbon intermediate that can be catalytically upgraded to several fuels and chemicals [3]. An important aspect to this particular microbial conversion is the need for micro-aerated environments as opposed to traditional aerobic fermentation. Slight variations in oxygen concentration can result in competing reaction pathways that disable BDO production. Hence, gas-liquid mass transfer and transport need to be optimized in large-scale reactors to maximize BDO production, for which CFD is a valuable tool. The aerobic-fermentation CFD model previously developed by the authors [5] for simulating bubble-column and airlift reactors at scale was used in this study. The Reynolds-averaged mass, momentum and energy transport equations for interpenetrating gas and liquid phase are solved in this model along with the transport and interphase mass transfer of oxygen. Our previous work used a phenomenological model for microbial oxygen uptake that neglected microbial growth and other reaction pathways. In this work, a detailed metabolic model enabled prediction of product formation and inhibition pathways. In order to manage computational cost, we used a subcycling technique [6] that takes advantage of the clear separation in transport (~ 200 sec) and reaction (~ 2-3 hours) timescales. The CFD model is first solved to steady state, after which the metabolic model is advanced at every cell in the computational domain using the local oxygen concentration. The CFD model is then run to achieve a new steady state that provides a new oxygen distribution for the metabolic model. This process, where reaction and fluid updates are interleaved together, is iterated until reactants are completely exhausted. This work will examine the performance of different reactor designs such as bubble column and airlift reactors at scale (250-500 m3). Oxygen mass-transfer coefficient and distribution are critically analyzed among reactors, and optimization studies pertaining to aeration is presented. Furthermore, it has been observed in experiments that high BDO production may be achieved by manipulating the aerobic environment over the course of reaction, such that oxygen concentration is high during the growth phase, and very low as sugar is depleted. This characteristic will be addressed by our simulations for which a timedependent scheduling strategy for aeration is presented that maximizes BDO production. [1] Humbird, D., Davis, R., and McMillan, J., Aeration costs in stirred-tank and bubble column bioreactors, Biochemical Engineering Journal, 127, 161—166, 2017 [2] Yang, S., Mohagheghi, A., Franden, M. A., Chou, Y.-C., Chen, X., Dowe, N., Himmel, M. E., and Zhang, M., Metabolic engineering of zymomonas mobilis for 2, 3-butanediol production from lignocellulosic biomass sugars. Biotechnology for biofuels, 9(1):189, 2016 [3] Kim, S. J., Sim, H. J., Kim, J. W., Lee, Y. G., Park, Y. C., and Seo, J. H., Enhanced production of 2,3-butanediol from xylose by combinatorial engineering of xylose metabolic pathway and cofactor regeneration in pyruvate decarboxylase-deficient Saccharomyces cerevisiae. Bioresource Technology, 245:1551–1557, 2017 [4] Weller, H., Tabor, G., Jasak, H. and Fureby, C., A tensorial approach to computational continuum mechanics using object-oriented techniques, Computers in physics, 12, 6, 620--631, 1998
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages30
StatePublished - 2020

Publication series

NamePresented at the AIChE Virtual Annual Meeting 2020, 16-20 November 2020

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-5100-78334


  • butanediol
  • micro-aerobic fermentation


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