Oxygen transfer in hydrocarbon-aqueous dispersions and its applicability to alkane-based bioprocesses

Correia, Leslie Daniel Camara (2007-12)

Thesis (MScEng (Process Engineering))--University of Stellenbosch, 2007.


Adequate provision of oxygen to aerobic bioprocesses is essential for the optimisation of process kinetics. In bioprocesses in which the feedstock is an alkane, the supply of sufficient oxygen is of particular concern because the alkane molecular structure is deficient in oxygen. As a result, the oxygen demand has to be met solely by transfer of oxygen to the culture, necessitating a proportionately higher requirement for oxygen transfer. Maximisation of the rate of oxygen transfer is therefore of key importance in optimising the potential for alkane bioconversion, with respect to both operation and scale up. Nevertheless, the oxygen transfer rate (OTR), and its dependence on the overall volumetric mass transfer coefficient (KLa) in alkane-aqueous dispersions is not yet well understood. In view of the importance of an adequate OTR in the optimisation of alkane bioconversion, this study has focused on the identification and elucidation of the factors which underpin the behaviour of KLa in an alkane-aqueous dispersion. KLa behaviour was quantified in terms of the pressures imposed by turbulence and alkane fluid properties, through their influence on the Sauter mean diameter (D32), gas hold up, gas-liquid interface rigidity and gas-liquid interfacial area per unit volume. These properties were correlated with KLa over a wide range of agitation rates and alkane concentrations in alkane-aqueous dispersions. Experiments were conducted in a 5 litre aerated and agitated bioreactor at agitation rates of 600, 800, 1000 and 1200 rpm and alkane (n-C10-C13 cut) concentrations of 0, 2.5, 5, 10, and 20% (v/v). KLa determination was executed using both the gassing out and pressure step methods. The accuracy and reliability of these methods were compared under the full range of agitation rates and alkane concentrations. The pressure step method was conclusively shown to be superior provided that probe response was taken into account, and was therefore used in the correlations. The interfacial areas corresponding to the KLa values were calculated from the combined effects of D32 and gas hold up. D32 was determined from the measurement of the dispersed air bubble diameters by means of a photographic technique and image analysis. Image analysis was performed by a program that was developed in Matlab® using image acquisition and image processing techniques. This program used these techniques to extract information of the gas bubbles in the image. The gas hold up was determined using the dispersion height technique. The behaviour of KLa was shown to be dependent on both agitation and alkane concentration. Increasing agitation from 600 to 1200 rpm increased KLa for each of the alkane concentrations. The influence of agitation on the interfacial area was evaluated over the same range of agitation rates and the relationship between the corresponding KLa values and interfacial areas assessed. Increasing agitation rate similarly enhanced the interfacial area available for transfer for each of the alkane concentrations, resulting in the concomitant increase in KLa. This increase in interfacial area was related directly to a shear-induced decease in D32 and indirectly to an increased gas holdup as a result of the lower rise velocity of the smaller bubbles. In addition to the agitation, the presence of alkane markedly influenced KLa behaviour, but in different ways, depending on the alkane concentration. Alkane concentration between 2.5 and 5% (v/v) reduced D32 at constant agitation of 800, 1000 and 1200 rpm, a likely consequence of decreased surface tension and retarded coalescence conferred by the alkane. The smaller D32 and the consequential enhanced gas hold up served to amplify KLa through increased interfacial area. However, as alkane concentration was increased above 5% (v/v), the gas hold up decreased despite a continued decrease in D32, resulting in a corresponding decrease in both the interfacial area and KLa. This suggests that at the higher alkane concentrations, the influence of viscosity predominated, exerting multiple negative influences on the interfacial area and oxygen transfer coefficient. The trends were however, not observed at the low agitation of 600 rpm, where turbulence was significantly reduced and KLa was repressed for all alkane concentrations. The pressures imposed by turbulence and alkane properties on the interfacial area defined locales of KLa behaviour and three distinct KLa behavioural trends were identified, depending on the agitation rate and alkane concentration. Regime 1 was constrained between 2.5 and 5% (v/v) for agitation rates of 800 rpm and above. Here KLa enhancement was directly associated with increased interfacial area which was the major factor defining KLa in this regime. Regime 2 was constrained by alkane concentrations higher than 5% (v/v) for agitation rates of 800 rpm and above. In this regime, the KLa depression was observed with increasing alkane concentration suggesting a predominant influence of viscosity which would be likely to exert multiple negative influences on KLa, through both the interfacial area and KL. The interfacial area in this regime decreased mainly due to the negative effect of viscosity on gas holdup. Regime 3, characterised by a decline in KLa irrespective of the alkane concentration, occurred at agitation rates smaller than 800 rpm. It is likely that at low agitation rates, the contribution of turbulence was insufficient to exert a positive influence on the interfacial area In this regime, the interfacial decreased through the combined negative effect of increased D32 and decreased gas holdup. The resultant variation in OTR depended directly on the relative magnitudes of the KLa and oxygen solubility and indirectly on the process conditions which defined these magnitudes. Under conditions of enhanced KLa, OTR benefited from the combined increases in KLa and oxygen solubility. However, under conditions of KLa depression, the elevated oxygen solubility did not invariably outweigh the influence of KLa depression on OTR. Consequently, despite the considerably increased solubility of oxygen in alkane-based bioprocesses a potential decrease in OTR through depressed KLa underlines the critical importance of the quantification of this parameter in alkane-aqueous dispersions and the necessity for a definition of the locales of optimal KLa. Through the identification of the parameters which underpin the behaviour of KLa in alkane-aqueous dispersions and the quantification of the effect of process conditions on these parameters, a fundamental understanding of the KLa and OTR in alkane-aqueous dispersions has been developed. This provides a knowledge base for the prediction of optimal KLa in these systems and has wide application across all alkane-based bioprocesses.

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