Together with other so-called “bio-plastics”, Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHAs) are expected to soon replace established polymers on the plastic market. As a prerequisite, optimized process design is needed to make PHAs attractive in terms of costs and quality. Nowadays, large-scale PHA production relies on discontinuous fed-batch cultivation in huge bioreactors. Such processes presuppose numerous shortcomings such as nonproductive time for reactor revamping, irregular product quality, limited possibility for supply of certain carbon substrates, and, most of all, insufficient productivity. Therefore, single- and multistage continuous PHA biosynthesis is increasingly investigated for production of different types of microbial PHAs; this goes for rather crystalline, thermoplastic PHA homopolyesters as well as for highly flexible PHA copolyesters, and even blocky-structured PHAs consisting of alternating soft and hard segments. Apart from enhanced productivity and constant product quality, chemostat processes can be used to elucidate kinetics of cell growth and PHA formation under constant process conditions. Furthermore, continuous enrichment processes constitute a tool to isolate novel powerful PHA-producing microbial strains adapted to special environmental conditions. The article discusses challenges, potential and case studies for continuous PHA production, and shows up new strategies to further enhance such processes economically by developing unsterile open continuous processes combined with the application of inexpensive carbon feedstocks.
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