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Batch type bioreactor

A bioreactor may refer to any device or system that supports a biologically active environment.[1] In one case, a bioreactor is a vessel in which is carried out a chemical process which involves organisms or biochemically active substances derived from such organisms. This process can either be aerobic or anaerobic. These bioreactors are commonly cylindrical, ranging in size from liters to cubic meters, and are often made of stainless steel.

A bioreactor may also refer to a device or system meant to grow cells or tissues in the context of cell culture. These devices are being developed for use in tissue engineering.

On the basis of mode of operation, a bioreactor may be classified as batch, fed batch or continuous (e.g. Continuous stirred-tank reactor model). An example of a continuous bioreactor is the chemostat.

Organisms growing in bioreactors may be suspended or immobilized. The simplest, where cells are immobilized, is a Petri dish with agar gel. Large scale immobilized cell bioreactors are:

  • moving media
  • packed bed
  • fibrous bed
  • membrane


Bioreactor design

A closed bioreactor used in cellulosic ethanol research

Bioreactor design is a relatively complex engineering task, which is studied in the discipline of biochemical engineering. Under optimum conditions, the microorganisms or cells are able to perform their desired function with 100 percent rate of success. The bioreactor's environmental conditions like gas (i.e., air, oxygen, nitrogen, carbon dioxide) flow rates, temperature, pH and dissolved oxygen levels, and agitation speed/circulation rate need to be closely monitored and controlled.

Most industrial bioreactor manufacturers use vessels, sensors and a control system networked together.

Fouling can harm the overall sterility and efficiency of the bioreactor, especially the heat exchangers. To avoid it, the bioreactor must be easily cleaned and as smooth as possible (therefore the round shape).

A heat exchanger is needed to maintain the bioprocess at a constant temperature. Biological fermentation is a major source of heat, therefore in most cases bioreactors need refrigeration. They can be refrigerated with an external jacket or, for very large vessels, with internal coils.

In an aerobic process, optimal oxygen transfer is perhaps the most difficult task to accomplish. Oxygen is poorly soluble in water--even less in fermentation broths--and is relatively scarce in air (20.95%). Oxygen transfer is usually helped by agitation, which is also needed to mix nutrients and to keep the fermentation homogeneous. There are, however, limits to the speed of agitation, due both to high power consumption (which is proportional to the cube of the speed of the electric motor) and to the damage to organisms caused by excessive tip speed bio.


Moss photobioreactor with Physcomitrella patens

A photobioreactor (PBR) is a bioreactor which incorporates some type of light source. Virtually any translucent container could be called a PBR, however the term is more commonly used to define a closed system, as opposed to an open tank or pond. Photobioreactors are used to grow small phototrophic organisms such as cyanobacteria, algae , or moss plants [2]. These organisms use light through photosynthesis as their energy source and do not require sugars or lipids as energy source. Consequently, risk of contamination with other organisms like bacteria or fungi is lower in photobioreactors when compared to bioreactors for heterotroph organisms.

Sewage treatment

Bioreactors are also designed to treat sewage and wastewater. In the most efficient of these systems there is a supply of free-flowing, chemically inert media that acts as a receptacle for the bacteria that breaks down the raw sewage. Examples of these bioreactors often have separate, sequential tanks and a mechanical separator or cyclone to speed the division of water and biosolids. Aerators supply oxygen to the sewage and media further accelerating breakdown. In the process, the liquids Biochemical Oxygen Demand BOD is reduced sufficiently to render the contaminated water fit for reuse. The biosolids can be collected for further processing or dried and used as fertilizer. An extremely simple version of a sewage bioreactor is a septic tank whereby the sewage is left in situ, with or without additional media to house bacteria. In this instance, the biosludge itself is the primary host (activated sludge) for the bacteria. Septic systems are best suited where there is sufficient landmass and the system is not subject to flooding or overly saturated ground and where time and efficiency is not of an essence.

In bioreactors where the goal is to grow cells or tissues for experimental or therapeutic purposes, the design is significantly different from industrial bioreactors. Many cells and tissues, especially mammalian ones, must have a surface or other structural support in order to grow, and agitated environments are often destructive to these cell types and tissues. Higher organisms also need more complex growth medium.

NASA tissue cloning bioreactor

NASA has developed a new type of bioreactor that artificially grows tissue in cell cultures. NASA's tissue bioreactor can grow heart tissue, skeletal tissue, ligaments, cancer tissue for study, and other types of tissue.[2]

For more information on artificial tissue culture, see tissue engineering.


  • Biochemical engineering
  • Industrial biotechnology
  • Biological hydrogen production (Algae)
  • Biofuel from algae
  • Bioreactor landfill
  • Cell culture
  • Chemostat
  • Digester
  • Septic tank
  • Tissue Engineering


  1. ^ International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry. "bioreactor". Compendium of Chemical Terminology Internet edition.
  2. ^ Eva L. Decker und Ralf Reski (2008): Current achievements in the production of complex biopharmaceuticals with moss bioreactor. Bioprocess and Biosystems Engineering 31, 3-9 [1]

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