the headshot of Gayle Bentley

Author: Dr. Gayle Bentley, Technology Manager, Conversion Program, Bioenergy Technologies Office 

Bioprose Blog

The Bioenergy Technologies Office (BETO) is tackling the separations challenges critical to the success of cost-competitive, environmentally friendly biofuels by investing in the Bioprocessing Separations Consortium. Internal analysis performed by U.S. Department of Energy National Laboratories has shown that up to 50% of biofuels’ minimum fuel selling price can be attributed to biofuel separations. The Consortium has made considerable advances in its first three years, as documented in the “Bioprocessing Separations Consortium Three Year Overviewreport that highlights these successes.

The Bioprocessing Separations Consortium team

The Bioprocessing Separations Consortium team and industry advisory board in December 2018. Photo credit: Synthetic Biology Research Center

Teamwork Addresses Critical Separations Research Challenges

The technical challenges facing bioprocessing separations are as varied and diverse as the different types of biomass, conversion routes, and target products. Due to the broad range of separations challenges, the Consortium has focused on critical research needs identified by interdisciplinary team members, as well as members from the Industry Advisory Board.

The Consortium’s research portfolio works to directly meet the needs and interests of other BETO consortia, including ChemCatBio, the Agile BioFoundry, Co-Optima, and the Consortium for Computational Physics and Chemistry, and these formative activities have shaped the Consortium’s goals. In its first three years, the Consortium targeted four bioprocessing separations challenges:

  1. Lignin fractionation — To realize the potential of lignin valorization. Before it is possible to access this rich molecular diversity, deconstructed lignin needs to be fractionated into different components. 
  2. Process integration improvements —To reduce energy use and capital costs of bioprocesses. Technologies in this area included in situ product recovery with hybrid extraction and distillation, pervaporation, and catalytic hot gas filtration.
  3. Increasing the overall carbon efficiency of bioprocessing — To improve process economics by capturing dilute carbon in aqueous streams. Numerous technologies were applied in this area including electrodeionization, pervaporation, membranes, and simulated moving beds.
  4. Development of new materials — To reduce the negative influence of poisons – both those that influence catalyst performance and those that inhibit fermenting microorganisms – on bioprocessing costs. This challenge was identified from the design case that showed that catalyst poisons in lignin deconstruction streams can drive increased processing costs.

Research in each area falls within the three main strengths of the Consortium:

  1. Materials design, development, and evaluation
  2. Process development
  3. Computation and analysis, where results of these analyses are used to develop cost-effective solutions with sustainability advantages. 

The following table summarizes the research portfolio of the Consortium in its first three years.

Summary of Technologies Developed in Bioprocessing Separations Consortium.

Summary of Technologies Developed in Bioprocessing Separations Consortium. Image credit: Bioprocessing Separations Consortium Three Year Overview.

Consortium Achievements in Three Years

Within its first three years, the Consortium has made significant progress. Overall, the Consortium has developed:

  • Separations technologies for 10 bioprocesses
  • Bioprocessing of 9 target compounds
  • Ten materials
  • Four process analyses for cost and sustainability.

Examples of Consortium advancements include:

  • Successful design and evaluation of adsorbents that target fermentation impurities with high specificity
  • Development of a multi-stage filtration technology for lignin fractionation at industrially-relevant throughput
  • Integration of fermentation and electrodeionization for removal of organic acids.

Future Bioprocessing Separations Consortium Work

The Bioprocessing Separations Consortium is continuing for a second three-year term and the table below summarizes the Consortium’s research agenda for this term. The projects cover a broad technology space and focus on a number of different target products. The Consortium’s research continues to address the pressing need for cost-effective and efficient separations in bioprocessing. 

Consortium Project Slate: FY 2020–2022.

Consortium Project Slate: FY 2020–2022. Image credit: Bioprocessing Separations Consortium Three Year Overview.

The Consortium’s three-year report highlights new advances from the Consortium’s first three years and serves as a resource to the broader community. Research conducted by the Consortium continues to address the ongoing pressing need for cost-effective and efficient separations in bioprocessing. Effective collaboration is at the heart of the Consortium’s progress and the foundation of successes on the horizon.

This blog was co-written by Dr. Jennifer Dunn of Argonne National Laboratory.

Gayle Bentley
Dr. Gayle Bentley is a technology manager for the Conversion Program in the Bioenergy Technologies Office at the U.S. Department of Energy (DOE). She manages a portfolio of research and development projects that improve the production of renewable biofuels and biochemicals, and is involved in the Plastics Innovation Challenge.
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