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Large-scale production of diesel-like biofuels – process design as an inherent part of microorganism development



Industrial biotechnology is playing an important role in the transition to a bio-based economy. Currently, however, industrial implementation is still modest, despite the advances made in microorganism development. Given that the fuels and commodity chemicals sectors are characterized by tight economic margins, we propose to address overall process design and efficiency at the start of bioprocess development. While current microorganism development is targeted at product formation and product yield, addressing process design at the start of bioprocess development means that microorganism selection can also be extended to other critical targets for process technology and process scale implementation, such as enhancing cell separation or increasing cell robustness at operating conditions that favor the overall process. In this paper we follow this approach for the microbial production of diesel-like biofuels. We review current microbial routes with both oleaginous and engineered microorganisms. For the routes leading to extracellular production, we identify the process conditions for large scale operation. The process conditions identified are finally translated to microorganism development targets. We show that microorganism development should be directed at anaerobic production, increasing robustness at extreme process conditions and tailoring cell surface properties. All the same time, novel process configurations integrating fermentation and product recovery, cell reuse and low-cost technologies for product separation are mandatory. This review provides a state-of-the-art summary of the latest challenges in large-scale production of diesel-like biofuels.