Improving ethanol productivity through self-cycling fermentation of yeast: a proof of concept

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  • Background The cellulosic ethanol industry has developed efficient strategies for converting sugars obtained from various cellulosic feedstocks to bioethanol. However, any further major improvements in ethanol productivity will require development of novel and innovative fermentation strategies that enhance incumbent technologies in a cost-effective manner. The present study investigates the feasibility of applying self-cycling fermentation (SCF) to cellulosic ethanol production to elevate productivity. SCF is a semi-continuous cycling process that employs the following strategy: once the onset of stationary phase is detected, half of the broth volume is automatically harvested and replaced with fresh medium to initiate the next cycle. SCF has been shown to increase product yield and/or productivity in many types of microbial cultivation. To test whether this cycling process could increase productivity during ethanol fermentations, we mimicked the process by manually cycling the fermentation for five cycles in shake flasks, and then compared the results to batch operation. Results Mimicking SCF for five cycles resulted in regular patterns with regards to glucose consumption, ethanol titer, pH, and biomass production. Compared to batch fermentation, our cycling strategy displayed improved ethanol volumetric productivity (the titer of ethanol produced in a given cycle per corresponding cycle time) and specific productivity (the amount of ethanol produced per cellular biomass) by 43.1 ± 11.6 and 42.7 ± 9.8%, respectively. Five successive cycles contributed to an improvement of overall productivity (the aggregate amount of ethanol produced at the end of a given cycle per total processing time) and the estimated annual ethanol productivity (the amount of ethanol produced per year) by 64.4 ± 3.3 and 33.1 ± 7.2%, respectively. Conclusions This study provides proof of concept that applying SCF to ethanol production could significantly increase productivities, which will help strengthen the cellulosic ethanol industry.

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    Attribution 4.0 International