The goal of LORRE’s bioprocessing research is to obtain fundamental knowledge that will provide a foundation by which biotechnology is translated into products and technologies that define human activity: food, fuel, bioproducts, and health. Students and researchers who carry out the work utilize biotechnology to directly manipulate the cells’ machinery through recombinant DNA techniques, as well as develop principles for the application of the biotechnology on an industrial scale. The research addresses unit operations that encompass bioreactors, chromatography, membrane separations, high temperature reactions, and enzyme transformations, as well as other thermochemical catalytic processes. The underlying approach is to study molecular phenomena, and then develop mechanistic mathematical models that enable or anticipate performance of catalytic transformations, bioseparations, and other reactions across a range of conditions at the laboratory scale. Once new concepts are proven and understood, engineering design is enabled to build prototypes for testing the technology in the pilot plant, in the field, or in industry. This key step in translating the technology from the laboratory bench into large-scale industrial practice is part of all of the research activities in LORRE.
Bioprocessing is carried out through graduate student theses that address a range of scholarly topics including: biochemical kinetics, systems biology, proteins at interfaces, bioseparation fundamentals, transport phenomena in biological systems, process synthesis, biochemical and thermochemical catalysis, and economic analysis. Bioprocessing is a fundamental platform for providing educational experiences to the students who study in LORRE so that they are able to experience the basics of applying new knowledge in biochemical conversion and renewable resources. Lessons learned through the research assist in development of new process concepts or the modification of existing ones in a quantitative and systematic manner. Examples of translation of bioprocess systems have occurred throughout the history of LORRE. These include scale-up of separation techniques, such as chromatography and adsorption, fermentation processes, and preprocessing (i.e., pretreatment) of cellulosic substrates in order to make them more reactive with respect to enzyme hydrolysis or fermentation processes, as well as provide co-products in a form that enable generation of electricity.