Hariklia Gavala and Manuel Pinelo. Photo by Christian Ove Carlsson

Membranes pave the way for a brighter bio-future

Wednesday 06 Apr 16
by Rasmus-Hoejmark-Ravn


Manuel Pinelo
Associate Professor
DTU Chemical Engineering
+45 45 25 29 50


Hariklia N. Gavala
Associate Professor
DTU Chemical Engineering
+45 45 25 61 96


Brit Bille Albrektsen
International Partnership Manager
Office for Study Programmes and Student Affairs
+45 45 25 10 66

Fouling Induced Enzyme Immobilization

  • The "Fouling Induced Enzyme Immobilization" technique uses the support of polymer membranes as matrixes for enzyme immobilization. Once immobilized, the membrane support is coated with a layer of polydopamine, which prevents enzyme leakage and makes it possible to recover the initial permeability of the membrane.

  • The technique is a result of BIOVALUE SPIR (Strategic Platform for Innovation and Research on Value-Added products from Biomass), in which four employees from DTU Chemical Engineering participate: Manuel Pinelo, Anne Meyer, Lene Lange and Henning Jørgensen from BioEng.

Forward Osmosis Aquaporin Membrane

  • The "Forward Osmosis Aquaporin Membrane" technology is based on naturally occuring membrane-bound water transport proteins (aquaporins), which form channels through the cell membranes.

  • The technology is a vital part of the Danish platform IBISS (Industrial Biomimetic and Biosensing Membranes), in which four employees from DTU Chemical Engineering are involved: Hariklia Gavala, Lene Lange and Stavros Kalafatakis from BioEng as well as Loannis Skiadas from PILOT PLANT. 

The potential of bio-based products depends strongly on how attractive they are in the eyes of the environment and the economy. New membrane technologies from DTU Chemical Engineering may be the solution needed to overcome some of the major hurdles that bio-products face.

The realization of a more bio-based future is well underway, but the journey toward solutions that are environmentally and economically attractive . For example, the use of enzymes in industrial production is often costly, while bio-based chemicals and fuels face several difficulties, which stand in the way of an attractive production.

The answers to these challenges, however, may not be far away, as efforts from BioEng Research Center have contributed to bring the road closer to completion. The tools in question: new membrane technology concepts based on biological insight and innovative thinking.

Among their many benefits, the technologies make it possible to enhance the stability and reuse potential of enzymes and offer highly promising solutions for water recovery in bio-refineries and reducing levels of CO2.

The host of a million enzymes

One of the major outcomes of BioEng’s efforts is the creation of a membrane with the ability to host millions of enzymes. The foundation of this technology is the so-called “Fouling-induced Enzyme Immobilization”, a new technique developed at BioEng, which the research centre currently uses to convert CO2 into formic acid, formaldehyde and methanol.

The results of the technique have been positive: It increases the stability of the enzymes involved in an enzyme reaction, ensures a good performance for several cycles and allows the user to immobilize several and different types of enzymes in the same membrane. Remarkably, this makes it possible to regenerate important cofactors, which in short are molecules that help enzymes to complete a reaction.

“Membrane bioreactors are easy to control and scale up. This makes them of special interest for the new generation of industrial products that are produced from metabolic pathways, a series of chemical reactions in which enzymes are costly and often require the use of cofactors”, says Manuel Pinelo, Associate Professor at BioEng.

A solid solution to some major bottlenecks

Membranes may also play a significant role in bio-refineries in the future. More specifically, the so-called “Forward Osmosis Aquaporin Membrane” technology – developed by the Danish company Aquaporin A/S and tested by BioEng – could prove to be a very effective and important tool in the solution of several challenges.

In particular, substrate and product inhibition often hinder the formation of highly concentrated bio-products, such as fuels and chemicals.  One of the main advantages of the “Forward Osmosis Aquaporin Membrane” technology is the possibility to couple it to any bioconversion process that faces these difficulties in order to overcome them.

“Biological processing of biomass holds a great potential for a sustainable production of bio-based chemicals and fuels, but we need to resolve some major bottlenecks in order to reach an environmentally and economically attractive solution. This technology could provide a solution for water recovery and up-concentration of products while reducing the cost of the separation”, says Hariklia Gavala, Associate Professor at BioEng.

In collaboration with the PILOT PLANT Research Centre, BioEng is currently developing a process scheme that will uncover and demonstrate the potential of water recovery and recirculation in bio-refineries.

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17 FEBRUARY 2020