Microbial biofilms in biorefinery - Towards a sustainable production of low-value bulk chemicals and fuels

P. S. Leonov, X. Flores-Alsina, K. V. Gernaey, C. Sternberg*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal articleResearchpeer-review


Harnessing the potential of biocatalytic conversion of renewable biomass into value-added products is still hampered by unfavorable process economics. This has promoted the use of biofilms as an alternative to overcome the limitations of traditional planktonic systems. In this paper, the benefits and challenges of biofilm fermentations are reviewed with a focus on the production of low-value bulk chemicals and fuels from waste biomass. Our study demonstrates that biofilm fermentations can potentially improve productivities and product yields by increasing biomass retention and allowing for continuous operation at high dilution rates. Furthermore, we show that biofilms can tolerate hazardous environments, which improve the conversion of crude biomass under substrate and product inhibitory conditions. Additionally, we present examples for the improved conversion of pure and crude substrates into bulk chemicals by mixed microbial biofilms, which can benefit from microenvironments in biofilms for synergistic multi-species reactions, and improved resistance to contaminants. Finally, we suggest the use of mathematical models as useful tools to supplement experimental insights related to the effects of physico-chemical and biological phenomena on the process. Major challenges for biofilm fermentations arise from inconsistent fermentation performance, slow reactor start-up, biofilm carrier costs and carrier clogging, insufficient biofilm monitoring and process control, challenges in reactor sterilization and scale-up, and issues in recovering dilute products. The key to the successful commercialization of the technology is likely going to be an interdisciplinary approach. Crucial research areas might include genetic engineering combined with the development of specialized biofilm reactors, biofilm carrier development, in-situ biofilm monitoring, model-based process control, mixed microbial biofilm technology, development of suitable biofilm reactor scale-up criteria, and in-situ product recovery.
Original languageEnglish
Article number107766
JournalBiotechnology Advances
Number of pages18
Publication statusPublished - 2021


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