Fermatra, Tackling mass transfer challenges in fermentations

Project start: 1.6.2016
Project end: 31.5.2019
Project coordinator: Dr. Juha-Pekka Pitkänen, VTT
Tekes funding: 780 000 EUR 
Total budget: 1,3 MEUR

Fermatra project will research and develop “hardware”; i.e. equipment and modelling; to enable efficient mass transfer of gases to fermentation liquid phase and “software”; i.e. microbial processes; for utilization and valorization of industrial gases. Project partners are: VTT, Aalto University, Lappeenranta University of Technology, University of Oulu, Neste Oyj, Outotec Finland Oy, Outokumpu Crome Oy, Neste Jacobs Oy, Carbon ReUse Finland Oy and SansOx Oy.

Most industrial gases are combusted or even flared today. Steel mills, oil refineries, pulp mills and power plants produce yearly millions of tons of untapped raw material in Finland. The gas streams can be valorized with novel process concepts like gas fermentation. In gas fermentation, microorganisms work as catalysts to produce fuels such as ethanol, chemicals such as lactic acid and single-cell protein as animal feed from the gases. These products may yield high added-value in comparison to the current situation in the industrial gas utilization.

Gas fermentation systems and also aerobic conventional bioprocesses require efficient mass transfer of gaseous substrates, such as oxygen, to the culture medium (liquid phase) and further to microbial catalysts (solid phase). Gas-to-liquid mass transfer has been identified as the rate-limiting step and bottleneck for fermentations because of the low aqueous solubility of oxygen, carbon monoxide, hydrogen and methane. Thus bioreactor design that delivers sufficient gas-to-liquid mass transfer in an energy efficient manner at commercial scale represents a significant engineering challenge yet un-tackled.