Georg Grossmann, VP Process Development of BASF, gave the Hoogewerff lecture at NPS14 about the challenges for developing large scale biotechnology processes. BASF has many biotechnology processes in the innovation funnel. Their biotechnology process developments include the use of bacteria, yeasts, fungi and algae. The products from these biotechnology processes are: complex molecules such as enzymes and biopolymers, natural chemicals, such as vitamins and bulk chemicals among which, succinic acid, ethylene glycol, PDO, BDO, and acrylic acid. By 2020 they plan to have 30 billion €/y additional turnover from these novel processes.
Georg also revealed that the capital cost of biotechnology processes are about a factor 2 higher than for conventional chemical processes, due to the dilute aqueous streams, the slow reaction rate and the complex separations involved. Biotechnology processes are also more difficult to scale-up, often requiring two pilot plant stages, while chemical processes often can be scaled-up directly from the mini plant, hence without a pilot plant.
In fine chemicals and pharmaceuticals the desired products are often separated from the product mixture by chromatography which is a very costly. Tim Zeimer of TU Dortmund is developing liquid-liquid extraction using very special extraction solvents, such as poly-ethers polyelectrolytes and hyper-branched polymers. He showed the successful separation of a monoclonal antibody using this technique.