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 molecules that alter the surface tension of a liquid or the interfacial tension of liquid/liquid, gas/liquid or liquid/solid dispersions. Hence, they are most commonly used as detergents or emulsifiers. Biosurfactants are natural products of microbial origin, being biodegradable and available in a broad diversity of different variants with highly specialized attributes. However, economical production is still hampered by high raw-material costs, complex production processes, and low manufacturing output. In the spirit of a sustainable bioeconomy, the Biosurfactant Biorefinery (Bio2) project aims at the development of a biorefinery process for the production of next-generation biosurfactants rhamnolipids (RLs) and mannosylerythritol lipids (MELs) with recombinant strains of Pseudomonas putida and Ustilago maydis, respectively. Interdisciplinary cooperation of seven core groups will provide a well-founded basis to establish novel and innovative solutions addressing cutting-edge process development on multiple levels. These will include strain optimization, improvement of renewable substrate utilization, advanced fermentation concepts and process control strategies, integrated downstream processing and recycling of biomass, nutrients and water. Ultimately, the modular concept of the research biorefinery in the new NGP2 building (Center for next generation processes and products) at RWTH Aachen combined with the multidisciplinary Bio2 team provides an unmet level of flexibility and versatility, offering an ideal basis to achieve progress in the state-of-the-art of sustainable production of next generation biosurfactants.


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 proposed project, the realization of innovative and sustainable biorefinery concepts has a high potential of contributing to both of these aspects. Bio2 will furthermore not only provide a solid scientific background for the bioeconomy, 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. Due to the wide range of potential applications for biosurfactants, structural changes in the chemical, pharmaceutical, medical, and agricultural industries may be promoted. Especially with regard to biorefineries, which represent a prioritized research topic in the NRW Bioeconomy strategy, significant new insights in process development of biosurfactant processes will be generated. The proposed project is, therefore, tailored to the current bioeconomy strategies.


WP1: The aim of the first work package will be the production of pure mannosylerythritol lipid (MEL) biosurfactants from renewable resources in Ustilago maydis. 

(Core Group Prof. M. Feldbrügge/Dr. K. Schipper, Institute for Microbiology, Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf)

WP2&3: A second product from renewable resources will be rhamnolipid (RL) biosurfactants generated by Pseudomonas putida. 

(Core Group Prof. L. M. Blank/Dr. T. Tiso, Institute of Applied Microbiology, RWTH Aachen University, Core Group Prof. K.-E. Jaeger/Dr. S. Thies, Institute of Molecular Enzyme Technology, Heinrich-Heine University Düsseldorf)

WP4: For both biocatalysts and biosurfactants fermentation processes have to be designed and optimized.

(Core Group Prof. J. Büchs/Dr. L. Regestein, Aachener Verfahrenstechnik - Biochemical Engineering, RWTH Aachen University)

WP5: To overcome any problems caused by foam formation a bubble-free aeration will be developed.

(Core Group Prof. M. Wessling/Dipl.-Ing. R. Sengpiel, Aachener Verfahrenstechnik - Chemical Process Engineering, RWTH Aachen University)

WP6: The produced biosurfactants have to be separated and purified with different methods, depending on the physicochemical properties.

(Core Group Prof. A. Jupke/Dipl.-Ing. T. Maßmann, Aachener Verfahrenstechnik - Fluid Process Engineering, RWTH Aachen University)

WP7: All work packages as well as the overall process will be assessed regarding socioeconomic aspects.

(Core Group Prof. J.-F. Hake/Dr. P. Zapp, Institute of Energy and Climate Research - Systems Analysis and Technology Evaluation, Research Centre Jülich)

WP8: All process units will be scaled up in the research biorefinery in the new NGP2 building (Center for next generation processes and products) at RWTH Aachen University.

(Core Group Prof. J. Büchs/Dr. L. Regestein, Aachener Verfahrenstechnik - Biochemical Engineering, RWTH Aachen University)

FocusLab coordinator (leader)
 Project coordinator
Dr.-Ing. Lars Regestein, Akademischer Rat a.Z.
AVT - Aachener Verfahrenstechnik
RWTH Aachen

Julia Fritsch, M.Sc
AVT - Aachener Verfahrenstechnik
RWTH Aachen University
Forckenbeckstraße 51,
52064 Aachen, Germany
Phone: +49 241 80-47857
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.

 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

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