Home     Definition    History    Examples    Medicine    Agriculture    Industrial    Environmental     Regulation     Learning        



A bioreactor refers to any manufactured device or system that supports a biologically active environment. In one case, a bioreactor is a vessel in which a chemical process is carried out which involves organisms or biochemically active substances derived from such organisms. This process can either be aerobic or anaerobic. These bioreactors are commonly cylindrical, ranging in size from litres to cubic metres, and are often made of stainless steel.

Organisms growing in bioreactors may be submerged in liquid medium or may be attached to the surface of a solid medium. Submerged cultures may be suspended or immobilized. Suspension bioreactors can use a wider variety of organisms, since special attachment surfaces are not needed, and can operate at a much larger scale than immobilized cultures. However, in a continuously operated process the organisms will be removed from the reactor with the effluent. Immobilization is a general term describing a wide variety of methods for cell or particle attachment or entrapment. It can be applied to basically all types of biocatalysis including enzymes, cellular organelles, animal and plant cells. Immobilization is useful for continuously operated processes, since the organisms will not be removed with the reactor effluent, but is limited in scale because the microbes are only present on the surfaces of the vessel.

Fouling can harm the overall efficiency of the bioreactor, especially the heat exchangers. To avoid it, the bioreactor must be easily cleaned. Interior surfaces are typically made of stainless steel for easy cleaning and sanitation. Typically bioreactors are cleaned between batches, or are designed to reduce fouling as much as possible when operated continuously. Heat transfer is an important part of bioreactor design; small vessels can be cooled with a cooling jacket, but larger vessels may require coils or an external heat exchanger.

A photobioreactor (PBR) is a bioreactor which incorporates some type of light source (that may be natural sunlight or artificial illumination). Virtually any translucent container could be called a PBR, however the term is more commonly used to define a closed system, as opposed to an open storage tank or pond. Photobioreactors are used to grow small phototrophic organisms such as cyanobacteria, algae, or moss plants. These organisms use light through photosynthesis as their energy source and do not require sugars or lipids as energy source. Consequently, risk of contamination with other organisms like bacteria or fungi is lower in photobioreactors when compared to bioreactors for heterotroph organisms.

Many cells and tissues, especially mammalian ones, must have a surface or other structural support in order to grow, and agitated environments are often destructive to these cell types and tissues. Higher organisms, being auxotrophic, also require highly specialized growth media. This poses a challenge when the goal is to culture larger quantities of cells for therapeutic production purposes, and a significantly different design is needed compared to industrial bioreactors used for growing protein expression systems such as yeast and bacteria.

Bioreactors are generally used in those industries which are concerned with food, beverages and pharmaceuticals. The emergence of Biochemical engineering is of recent origin. Processing of biological materials using biological agents such as cells, enzymes or antibodies are the major pillars of biochemical engineering. Applications of biochemical engineering cover major fields of civilization such as agriculture, food and healthcare, resource recovery and fine chemicals.

The raw material can be of biological or non-biological origin. It is first converted to more suitable form for processing. This is done in upstream processing step which involves chemical hydrolysis, preparation of liquid medium, separation of particulate, air purification and many other preparatory operations.