Downstream Processing

Downstream processing has a major impact on the economic performance of biochemical manufacturing processes and may cause up to 80 % of the production costs. Major target of the platform “Downstream Processing” is to provide systematic methods and tools for the conceptual design and scale-up of economic separation processes for complex biochemical mixtures.

Coordinator: Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Schembecker *

A major part of the development effort for biochemical processes is spent for the optimization of the bioconversion step, e.g. for media or strain optimization. Therefore, industrial biochemical downstream processes are often directly implemented on the basis of laboratory recipes. Most often, not even a mass or energy balance is available and a holistic view on the complete process is missing.

The platform “Downstream Processing” wants to support the generation of fundamental process understanding by providing a toolbox of methods and technologies, which allow a thorough and reliable development of separation processes for complex biochemical mixtures. This toolbox includes:

  • Measurement of physical properties for components and mixtures and predictive modelling of these properties
  • Modelling, simulation and costing of complete manufacturing processes
  • Systematic conceptual design methods for downstream processes based on rules of thumb and chemical/biological/physical insights
  • Analytic and preparative separation technologies and modelling of these units (crystallization, chromatography, extraction, membranes, drying steps etc.)
  • Reliable scale-up methods

The technology platform is located at the Department of Biochemical and Chemical Engineering of the TU Dortmund University. There is an excellent interdisciplinary collaboration of various laboratories providing access to a wide range of separation technologies.

Within the platform, the research group “Innovative Downstream Processes” at the Laboratory of Plant and Process Design is funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research via Project Management Jülich (FKZ 0315520). Group members investigate the scale-up and phenomenology of foam fractionation, nucleation (by gassing or sono crystallization) and systematic scale-up of crystallization as well as the development of a digital knowledge platform encompassing physic-chemical properties, rules of thumb, heuristics and decision trees. The digital knowledge platform shall support the efficient and systematic development of biotechnological downstream processes. Head of this research group is Dr. Bernhard Burghoff.

This research group also organizes the annual “Downstream Days Summer School”. This summer school is an opportunity for PhD students from downstream processing to get

  • first hand insights in industrial processes,
  • background information on design strategies,
  • the possibility to receive a funding of 50.000 € for feasibility studies of research proposals.

In the framework of CLIB2021, several other, separately funded, projects are currently tackled at the laboratory, all of which have their focus on downstream processing.

  • One project funded by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research via Project Management Jülich (FKZ 0315404C) deals with the “Optimization of the Accessibility of Microbial Secondary Metabolites”. In this project at the Laboratory of Plant and Process Design, secondary metabolites from, e.g. fungi are separated from broth by liquid-liquid chromatography. One of the major project tasks is to optimize the chamber geometry of the fast centrifugal partition chromatograph used for separating target components from the broth.
  • While software tools for chemical process design are well established, design tools for biotechnological processes are underdeveloped. The project “INOSIM BIO: Adaptive Simulation and Optimization Tool for Biotechnological Processes” (FKZ 0315377C) aims at the enhancement of the design software INOSIM BIO, which shall become a valuable tool in bioprocess design.
  • The project “Isolation of pure components from natural substances” is a cooperation between the Laboratory of Plant and Process Design and an industrial partner within the framework of CLIB2021. This project helps to identify new strategies to isolate valuable substances from plant material and elucidates the underlying mechanisms.
  • In a different project at the Laboratory of Plant and Process Design, the “Chromatographic Isolation of Natural Substances” (FKZ 0315663A) also deals with purifying distinct target components from plant material. Generally speaking, in this case the focus lies on the modification of the chromatographic separation procedure, i.e. the proper selection of solvents and adsorbents.
  • Additionally, several fellows are working on projects within the CLIB-Graduate Cluster. There is a vivid knowledge exchange between the different projects in order to e.g. enhance networking.

* Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Schembecker, University of Dortmund
In 2005 Prof. Dr.-Ing. Gerhard Schembecker became head of the Chair for Plant and Process Design at the Department of Biochemical and Chemical Engineering of Dortmund University. Prof. Schembecker has studied Chemical Engineering at Dortmund University, obtained his PhD degree in Expert System Technology and worked as a post-doc at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, USA. His research interests focus on the conceptual design and simulation of biochemical processes with special interest in chromatography and crystallization.