Skip to main content
Synthesis and analysis of separation processes for extracellular chemicals generated from microbial conversions
BMC Chemical Engineering (2019)
  • Wenzhao Wu, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
  • Kirti M Yenkie, Rowan University
  • Christos T. Maravelias, Great Lakes Bioenergy Research Center
Recent advances in metabolic engineering have enabled the production of chemicals via bio-conversion using microbes. However, downstream separation accounts for 60–80% of the total production cost in many cases. Previous work on microbial production of extracellular chemicals has been mainly restricted to microbiology, biochemistry, metabolomics, or techno-economic analysis for specific product examples such as succinic acid, xanthan gum, lycopene, etc. In these studies, microbial production and separation technologies were selected apriori without considering any competing alternatives. However, technology selection in downstream separation and purification processes can have a major impact on the overall costs, product recovery, and purity. To this end, we apply a superstructure optimization based framework that enables the identification of critical technologies and their associated parameters in the synthesis and analysis of separation processes for extracellular chemicals generated from microbial conversions. We divide extracellular chemicals into three categories based on their physical properties, such as water solubility, physical state, relative density, volatility, etc. We analyze three major extracellular product categories (insoluble light, insoluble heavy and soluble) in detail and provide suggestions for additional product categories through extension of our analysis framework. The proposed analysis and results provide significant insights for technology selection and enable streamlined decision making when faced with any microbial product that is released extracellularly. The parameter variability analysis for the product as well as the associated technologies and comparison with novel alternatives is a key feature which forms the basis for designing better bioseparation strategies that have potential for commercial scalability and can compete with traditional chemical production methods.
Publication Date
December 1, 2019
Publisher Statement
This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the original author(s) and the source, provide a link to the Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver ( applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated.
Citation Information
Wenzhao Wu, Kirti M Yenkie and Christos T. Maravelias. "Synthesis and analysis of separation processes for extracellular chemicals generated from microbial conversions" BMC Chemical Engineering Vol. 1 Iss. 1 (2019) p. 21
Available at:
Creative Commons license
Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons CC_BY International License.