Impact of Variable Gas Mixtures on Bubble Size Distribution and Mass Transfer in Gas Fermentation Reactors

Hari Sitaraman, Malik Hassanaly, Milo Parra-Alvarez, Mohammad Rahimi, Jonathan Stickel

Research output: NRELPresentation


Gas fermentation has emerged as a promising new technology for the generation of fuels and chemicals from mixtures of greenhouse and energy rich gas streams (CO2/CH4/H2/CO) via microbial bioreaction. Example pathways include biomethanation (CO2/H2 to CH4), biogas upgrading, CO fermentation and wet-waste conversion. Effective Gas-liquid mass-transfer is an important physical phenomenon that determines the design and scale-up of these systems. There is currently a knowledge-gap regarding bubble-size distributions when using a mixture of gases with vastly different properties, which can have a significant impact on overall mass-transfer. For example, hydrogen bubbles are more buoyant compared to other relatively heavier gases (CO2/CH4/CO), resulting in a large distribution of residence times and bubble sizes. This work therefore develops a deeper understanding of bubble dynamics and interphase mass transfer in such heterogenous gas mixtures through well-resolved computational models. We use a detailed multiphase computational-fluid-dynamics (CFD) model to study the impact of gas-mixtures on overall mass-transfer in bubble column and air-lift reactors. The CFD tool previously developed by the authors (1) for simulating aerobic fermentation reactors at scale is used in this study. The Reynolds-averaged mass, momentum, energy, and species transport equations are solved for interpenetrating gas and liquid phase in this model. We use a population balance-based bubble-size-distribution model that is validated against small-scale experiments in our solver. Results pertaining to multiple simulations of gas-fermentation reactors are presented where gas mixtures with varying compositions of CO2/CH4/CO/H2 are imposed at the sparger boundaries. The spatio-temporal variations in bubble-size distribution and mass transfer coefficient is analyzed for varying superficial velocities and gas-compositions for varying sizes of bubble-column and airlift reactors.
Original languageAmerican English
Number of pages20
StatePublished - 2022

Publication series

NamePresented at the American Institute of Chemical Engineers (AIChE) Annual Meeting, 13-18 November 2022, Phoenix, Arizona

NREL Publication Number

  • NREL/PR-2C00-84546


  • bioreactors
  • carbon capture
  • CO2
  • computational fluid dynamics
  • gas fermentation
  • multiphase flow


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