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Environmental Biotechnology and Microbiology

Microbial bioprocesses is an important research area at SINTEF. We have for the last ten years worked with microbial processes related to environmental technology. Examples are conversion of various types of feedstock to biofuel and platform chemicals, expertise within degradation of crude oil and other unwanted and recalcitrant chemicals in nature and bioreactors, and microfouling/biofilm formation on various surfaces from water systems to ship hulls.

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We also have expertise within enhanced oil recovery (MEOR) with particular focus on biosurfactants, and within microbial processes at high-pressure, e.g. simulation of oil reservoir conditions.

Core laboratory facilities supporting the activities are:

  • Modern facilities for microbial work, including facilities for both aerobic and anaerobic microorganisms including extremophiles.
  • Molecular biology laboratory with state-of-the-art instrumentation for 'omics and meta'omics research (Illumina MiSeq and ddPCR).
  • Fermentation laboratories and downstream processing; 32 laboratory fermenters (1-3L) and two pilot fermenters (50 and 300L), as well as facilities for cell recycling and gas stripping.
  • Mass spectrometry analyses; HPLCs, GC-MS, LC-MS, LC-Qtof, LC-QQQ, Rapid fire LC-MS, Field flow fractionation, ICP-MS, and FT-ICR.
  • High throughput screening facilities (several robotic systems).

Key competence, research areas and products

  • Development of new microbial processes. SINTEF is involved in several projects on conversion of various types of feedstock to biofuel and platform chemicals such as ethanol, butanol, butyl butyrate, and butyric acid. Core activity is anaerobic fermentations combined with gas stripping to remove inhibiting products and/or cell recycling to increase cell concentration. Metagenomic approaches are used for taxonomic classification of mixed microbial consortia in mixed microbial fermentations.
  • Bio refinery is a prioritized research area at SINTEF focusing on both new methods for efficient fractionation of biomass such as lignocellulose, crustacean waste and macroalgae, and development of efficient bioprocesses for utilization of the different fractions.
  • Oil microbiology and enhanced oil recovery (MEOR). Microbiological and molecular biological methods are applied to characterize and understand microbial communities in oil reservoirs and the influence on oil quality and oil production. Bioprospecting in natural environments including oil reservoirs for biological compounds such as biosurfactants and biopolymers with high potential for use in MEOR strategies. High throughput screening of strain collections and metagenomic libraries. Cultivation and characterization of microorganisms at e.g. reservoir conditions. Detailed understanding of the composition of microbial consortia in oil reservoirs to evaluate potential impact of EOR methods. Core flooding experiments. (facts sheet)
  • Biofilm. A lab-scale flow system with defined flow conditions combined with EVOS Auto FL Imaging system is used to characterize microfouling of different surfaces, e.g. in order to quantify the effect of various surface treatments. The system is also used for real-time biofilm studies of bacteria and fungi.
  • Microbial degradation. Microbial degradation of recalcitrant chemicals and crude oil has been studied both in nature and in bioreactors.

Relevant projects

  • EcoLodge, "Efficient Production of Butyl-Butyrate from Lignocellulose Derived Sugars", a joint project with NTNU and Jadavpur University, Kolkata, India financed by NRC, EnergiX.
  • Grail, "Glycerol Biorefinery Approach for the Production of High Quality Products of Industrial Value", FP7 Program project.
  • BYEFOULING "Low-toxic cost-efficient environment-friendly antifouling materials", FP7 Program project.