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Biosensors for monitoring fermentation processes in the production of bio-ethanol from cellulosic biomass
Mentor: Dr. Silvana Andreescu
Department: Chemistry and Biomolecular Engineering

Ethanol is currently evaluated as an alternative to conventional gasoline fuel. Most technologies for bio-ethanol production are based on biochemical fermentation processes that require strict control of the fermentation parameters as well as continuous monitoring and real-time evaluation of the fermentation efficiency. This involves control of pH and continuous monitoring of sugar consumption (e.g. glucose) and ethanol production. Devices for automatic real-time monitoring of these parameters in situ, in the fermentation batch are currently not available. In recent work in our lab, we have fabricated a (bio)sensing technology that allows dual detection of ethanol and glucose in real-time and have optimized the experimental parameters in standard solutions. The sensor system is portable and can be integrated within a flow through system for automatic sampling. In this project, the REU student will (1) validate these sensors with conventional spectroscopic and chromatographic procedures (UV-VIS spectroscopy and gas chromatography) and (2) evaluate the performance of this technology in “real” hydrolysate mixtures and fermentation environments. During the first half of the program ,the fellow will fabricate the (bio)sensor, construct calibration curves for glucose and ethanol, determine the analytical performance and compare these performance with those obtained using classical spectroscopic (for glucose) and chromatographic (for ethanol) techniques. In the last two weeks of the program, these sensors will be tested in hydrolysate mixtures that mimic fermentation conditions. The student will evaluate the stability of the signal, test the effect of interferences and determine ethanol and glucose on spiked samples as well as samples retrieved from continuous fermentation batches. The REU student will have the opportunity to explore research in a highly interdisciplinary project at the interface between bio-analytical chemistry and biochemistry with focus on alternative energy production.