Flocculation of biological cells: Experiment vs. theory



Flocculation of biological cells is important in the biotechnology industry, as it could lead to improved efficiencies for bioreactor harvesting operations such as microfiltration. Experimental studies for flocculation of yeast and CHO cells using cationic polyelectrolytes suggest the existence of a steady-state, self-similar floc size distribution. The experimentally determined floc size distributions were modeled using a population balance approach. For flocculated yeast suspensions, the variation of the floc volume fraction with dimensionless particle diameter is predicted by the population balance model assuming a binary breakage distribution function. However, the variation of floc number fraction with dimensionless particle diameter is better predicted assuming a log normal fragment distribution function probably due to the presence of submicron-sized yeast cell debris. For CHO cell flocs, the floc volume and number fractions are predicted using a log normal fragment distribution function. CHO cells are far more fragile than yeast cells. Thus, individual CHO cells in a CHO cell floc can lyse leading to the formation of a number of small particles.