A system comprised of an immobilized yeast reactor producing ethanol, with a membrane pervaporation module for continuously removing and concentrating the produced ethanol, was developed. The combined system consisted of two integrated circulation loops: In one the sugar‐containing medium is circulated through the membrane pervaporation module. The two loops were interconnected in a way allowing for separate parameter optimization (e.g., flow rate, temperature, pH) for each loop. The fermentation unit was 2.0 L bioreactor with five equal segments, packed with 5‐mm beads of immobilized yeasts. The bead matrix was a crosslinked polyacrylamide hydrazide gel coated with calcium alginate. The fast circulation loop of the bioreactor allowed for efficient liberation of CO2 at the top of the immobilized yeast reactor. Continuous operation of the uncoupled reactor for over 50 days with inflowing defined medium or dilute molasses at a residence time of 1.25 h yielded ethanol at a rate of about 10 g/L h. The pervaporation unit was constructed from four 60‐cm‐long tubular membranes of silicone composite on a polysulfone support. The output from the fermentor was circulated through the inside of the tubes of a unit with a total surface area of 800 cm2, having an average flux of 150 mL/h, and selectivities to ethanol vs. water up to 7. A vacuum of 30 mb was applied to the outside of the tubes, removing 20–30 g of ethanol per hour, which was collected in condensors. The continuous removal of ethanol, avoiding inhibition of the fermentation process, resulted in an improved productivity and allowed the use of high sugar concentrations (40% wt/vol) offering the potential of a compact system with reduced stillage. The combined system of ethanol production and removal enabled an operative steady state at which the liquid volume of the system, and the concentrations of ethanol within the reactor (˜4% wt/vol), as well as within the flux crossing the pervaporation membrane (17%–20% wt/vol) were kept constant. At the steady state, a 40% wt/vol sugar solution could be continuously added to the fermentor when 12%–20% wt/vol clear ethanol solution was continuously removed by the pervaporation unit. Membrane fouling was reversed by short washing steps, and continuous step operation was maintained by working with two different modules that were interchanged. In this manner, long term continuous operation (over 40 days) was achieved with a productivity of 20–30 g/L h, representing over a twofold increase relative to the continuously operated reactor uncoupled from the membrane and a fivefold increase in comparison with the value obtained fro a corresponding batch fermentation.
- S. cerevisiae
- immobilized yeast