About the Project
Glycolipid biosurfactants are naturally occurring, microbially produced amphiphiles with a range of unique properties including biodegradability and tolerance of a wide range of temperature and pH. These properties have facilitated the commercialisation of biosrufactants by a number of companies in recent years, in a range of application areas including household cleaning and personal care.
Sophorolipid biosurfactants are of particular interest, though the current cost of production prohibits their wider use. This high production cost is in part due to the feeding of large quantities of substrate, meaning there is a requirement for significant unused bioreactor volume at the beginning of the fermentation, and the high viscosity of the sophorolipid phase, which accumulates in the bioreactor over time inhibiting oxygen mass transfer to the cells. Holiferm has developed a novel gravity separation process1 to separate the sophorolipid product as it is produced and remove it from the bioreactor, reducing the bioreactor volume requirement and alleviating mass transfer limitation, thereby enhancing productivity and fermentation product titre, and is working to exploit this technology commercially.
This PhD project will tackle some of the downstream purification challenges that exist for sophorolipid biosurfactants, dealing with the process post primary product recovery. Issues include defining and understanding the key quality attributes of sophorolipid biosurfactants, colour and odour removal, as well as post production transformation. There will also be a need to develop analytical techniques, such as LC-MS. This project involves biochemical engineering, surfactant characterisation, product formulation and testing and is suitable for candidates with a background in chemical engineering, biochemical engineering, microbiology, biotechnology or materials science.
1Dolman, BD et al. 2017, Process Biochemistry, 54(162-171)