Electrospun polymeric nanofiber adsorbents offer an alternative ligand support surface for bioseparations. Their non-woven fiber structure with diameters in the sub-micron range creates a remarkably high surface area. To improve the purification productivity of biological molecules by chromatography, cellulose nanofiber adsorbents were fabricated and assembled into a cartridge and filter holder format with a volume of 0.15 mL, a bed height of 0.3 mm and diameter of 25 mm. The present study investigated the performance of diethylaminoethyl (DEAE) derivatized regenerated cellulose nanofiber adsorbents based on criteria including mass transfer and flow properties, binding capacity, and fouling effects. Our results show that nanofibers offer higher flow and mass transfer properties. The non-optimized DEAE-nanofiber adsorbents indicate a binding capacity of 10% that of packed bed systems with BSA as a single component system. However, they operate reproducibly at flowrates of a hundred times that of packed beds, resulting in a potential productivity increase of 10-fold. Lifetime studies showed that this novel adsorbent material operated reproducibly with complex feed material (centrifuged and 0.45 µm filtered yeast homogenate) and harsh cleaning-in-place conditions over multiple cycles. DEAE nanofibers showed superior operating performance in permeability and fouling over conventional adsorbents indicating their potential for bioseparation applications. Biotechnol. Bioeng. 2013; 110: 1119–1128. © 2012 Wiley Periodicals, Inc.