A combination of experimental and theoretical approaches was used to characterize the dynamics of oxygen transfer in a membrane-aerated bioreactor. Pressure profiles along the length of the membrane at varying entrance and exit pressures were determined by actual experimental measurements, unlike most previous studies that have relied solely on theoretical descriptions of the pressure profile in the tubing. The mass transfer coefficient, kLa, was also determined under these conditions and was found to be essentially independent of tubing exit pressure. Measurement of the tubing pressure profile coupled with estimation of kLa allowed for computation of the oxygen transfer rate (OTR) along the length of the tubing. A mathematical model that incorporated friction pressure loss and losses due to tubing bending was developed to describe the pressure and hence OTR characteristics of membrane-aerated systems. The applicability of the model was verified by testing it on experimentally measured pressure data, and in all cases the model accurately described experimental data. When tubing properties are known, the mathematical model presented in this study allows for a priori estimation of OTR profiles along the length of the tubing. This information is vital for optimal design and scale-up of membrane-aerated bioreactors for mammalian cell culture.
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