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Abstract

Synthesis-gas fermentations have typically been gas-to-liquid mass-transfer-limited due to low solubilities of the gaseous substrates. A potential method to enhance mass-transfer rates is to sparge with microbubble dispersions. Mass-transfer coefficients for microbubble dispersions were measured in a bubble column. Oxygen microbubbles were formed in a dilute Tween 20 solution using a spinning disk apparatus. Axial dispersion coefficients measured for the bubble column ranged from 1.5 to 7.2 cm2/s and were essentially independent of flow rate. A laser-diffraction technique was used to determine the interfacial area per unit gas volume, a. The mass-transfer coefficient, KL, was determined by fitting a plug-flow model to the experimental, steady-state, liquid-phase oxygen-concentration profile. The KL values ranged from 2.9 × 10−5 to 2.2 × 10−4 m/s. Volumetric mass-transfer coefficients, KLa, for microbubbles with an average initial diameter of 60 μm ranged from 200 to 1800 h−1. Enhancement of mass transfer using microbubbles was demonstrated for a synthesis-gas fermentation. Butyribacterium methylotrophicum was grown in a continuous, stirred-tank reactor using a tangential filter for total cell recycle. The fermentation KLa values were 14 h−1 for conventional gas sparging through a stainless steel frit and 91 h−1 for microbubble sparging. The Power number of the microbubble generator was determined to be 0.036. Using this value, an incremental power-to-volume ratio to produce microbubbles for a B. methylotrophicum fermentation was estimated to be 0.01 kW/m3 of fermentation capacity.