Polyhydroxyalkanoates (PHA) are microbial biopolyesters utilized as “green plastics”. Their production under controlled conditions resorts to bioreactors operated in different modes. Because PHA biosynthesis constitutes a multiphase process, both feeding strategy and bioreactor operation mode need smart adaptation. Traditional PHA production setups based on batch, repeated batch, fed-batch or cyclic fed-batch processes are often limited in productivity, or display insufficient controllability of polyester composition. For highly diluted substrate streams like is the case of (agro) industrial waste streams, fed-batch enhanced by cell recycling has recently been reported as a viable tool to increase volumetric productivity. As an emerging trend, continuous fermentation processes in single-, two- and multi-stage setups are reported, which bring the kinetics of both microbial growth and PHA accumulation into agreement with process engineering and allow tailoring PHA’s molecular structure. Moreover, we currently witness an increasing number of CO2
-based PHA production processes using cyanobacteria; these light-driven processes resort to photobioreactors similar to those used for microalgae cultivation and can be operated both discontinuously and continuously. This development is parallel to the emerging use of methane and syngas as abundantly available gaseous substrates, which also calls for bioreactor systems with optimized gas transfer. The review sheds light on the challenges of diverse PHA production processes in different bioreactor types and operational regimes using miscellaneous microbial production strains such as extremophilic Archaea, chemoheterotrophic eubacteria and phototrophic cyanobacteria. Particular emphasis is dedicated to the limitations and promises of different bioreactor–strain combinations and to efforts devoted to upscaling these processes to industrially relevant scales.
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