Bioeconomy Science Center
Research and cooperation for a sustainable bioeconomy

Bioeconomy Science Center
Research and cooperation for a sustainable bioeconomy
FocusLab Bio²

Integration of next generation biosurfactant production into biorefinery processes

Scientific Abstract:

Surfactants are surface-active molecules that alter the surface tension of liquids and the interfacial tension of liquid/liquid, gas/liquid or liquid/solid dispersions. Conventional surfactants are mainly synthesized from crude oil and impose a negative environmental impact due to ecologic toxicity and difficult degradability of petrochemical precursors. Biosurfactants of microbial origin on the other hand are natural products, which are easily biodegradable and offer a broad diversity of variants with highly specialized attributes. However, economical production in industrial scale is still hampered by high raw material costs, complex production processes, and low productivities.

In the spirit of a sustainable bioeconomy, Bio² (Biosurfactant Biorefinery) aims at the development of a biorefinery process for the production of next-generation biosurfactants. By decreasing raw material and production costs, increasing yields and enhancing product properties, we help to establish biosurfactant competitiveness on the market. In addition, new cultivation concepts and integration of downstream processing are applied to facilitate a holistic approach, which is supported by a life-cycle-oriented sustainability analysis. In our project, rhamnolipids (RLs) and mannosylerythritol lipids (MELs) are produced by the recombinant strains of Pseudomonas putida and Ustilago maydis, respectively. Our work combines recombinant strain optimization (e.g. improvement of renewable substrate utilization) with process development and optimization (e.g. pressurized fermentation and bubble-free aeration) and in situ product recovery approaches to account for the complex process requirements. A socioeconomic evaluation via life cycle assessment guides the process design up to the realization in technical scale.


What is the relevance for bioeconomy?

Facing today’s grand societal challenges, two of the main goals of the NRW Research Strategy are the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and the improvement of resource efficiency. Within the scope of the Bio² project, the realization of an innovative and sustainable biosurfactant production process contributes to both of these aspects.

Bio2 will not only provide an example for an integrated biorefinery process, but will also enhance the integration of social, engineering, and natural sciences for a transdisciplinary assessment, taking into account process efficiency as well as sustainability criteria. In addition, significant new insights in process development of biosurfactant processes will be generated. Utilizing the infrastructure at the Center of next generation processes and products (NGP²) at Aachen University enables the realization of the overall process in pilot scale.


FocusLab coordinator
 Project coordinator
Dr. Nina Ihling
AVT - Aachener Verfahrenstechnik
RWTH Aachen University
Forckenbeckstraße 51
52074 Aachen, Germany
Phone: +49 241 80-47868
Fax: +49 241 80-22570

Markus Müller, M.Sc
AVT - Aachener Verfahrenstechnik
RWTH Aachen University
Forckenbeckstraße 51
52064 Aachen, Germany
Phone: +49 241 80-47870
Fax: +49 241 80-22570

Funding Period

01.05.2017 – 31.04.2020



The total budget of Bio² is 2,289,709 €. Bio² is part of the NRW-Strategieprojekt BioSC and thus funded by the Ministry of Culture and Science of the German State of North Rhine-Westphalia.


Most relevant publications from preliminary studies

Geiser, E., Reindl, M., Blank, L.M., Feldbrügge, M., Wierckx, N., and K. Schipper. (2016). Activating intrinsic carbohydrate-active enzymes of the smut fungus Ustilago maydis for the degradation of plant cell wall components. Appl. Env. Microbiol. 82. 5174-5185.

 Tiso, T., Sabelhaus, P., Behrens, B., Hayen, H., Blank, L.M. (2016). Creating metabolic demand as engineering strategy in Pseudomonas putida - Rhamnolipid synthesis as example. Metabolic Engineering Communications. 3. 234-244

Loeschcke, A., Markert, A., Wilhelm, S., Wirtz, A., Rosenau, F., Jaeger. K.-E., Drepper, T. (2013). TREX: a universal tool for the transfer and expression of biosynthetic pathways in bacteria. ACS Synthetic Biology. 2. 22-33.

Abels, C., Carstensen, F., Wessling, M. (2013). Membrane processes in biorefinery applications. Journal of Membrane Science 444: 285 - 317

Knabben, I., Regestein, L., Marquering, F., Steinbusch, S., Lara, A. R., Büchs, J. (2010).High cell-density processes in batch mode of a genetically engineered Escherichia coli strain with minimized overflow metabolism using a pressurized bioreactor. J Biotechnol. 150 (1). 73-79