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LLNL Research – 3D Printed Live Cells Convert Glucose to Ethanol, Carbon Dioxide to Enhance Catalytic Efficiency

3D printed live cells

“This is the first demonstration for 3D printing immobilized live cells to create chemical reactors. This approach promises to make ethanol production faster, cheaper, cleaner and more efficient.”

Engineer Eric Duoss, co-author on the paper
3D printed live cells
Above: An artist’s rendering of a printed spiral filament loaded with 3D printed live cells/Image Credit: Ryan Chen/LLNL

Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL) researchers, in close collaboration with National Renewable Energy Laboratory, have 3D printed live cells which boost the conversion of glucose to ethanol and carbon dioxide gas (CO2). A substance that resembles beer, demonstrating a technology that can lead to high bio-catalytic efficiency.

This new research, published in the journal Nano Letters, demonstrates the ability of additively manufactured living-cells to assist in research in microbial behaviours, communication, and interaction with the microenvironment and for new bioreactors with high volumetric productivity. These 3D printed live cells can find multiple applications in the food industry, biofuel production, waste treatment, and bioremediation.

3D Printed Live Cells

Using 3D printed live cells for the conversion process will always be preferred over inorganic catalysts as it has advantages of mild reaction conditions, self-regeneration, low cost, and catalytic specificity.

3D printed live cells
Above: LLNL team 3D printed live cells of yeast on lattices/Image Credit: LLNL

According to the lead and corresponding author on the paper & materials scientist at LLNL Fang Qian, “Compared to bulk film counterparts, printed lattices with thin filament and macro-pores allowed us to achieve rapid mass-transfer leading to a several-fold increase in ethanol production.”

He continued, “Our ink system can be applied to a variety of other catalytic microbes to address broad application needs. The bioprinted 3D geometries developed in this work could serve as a versatile platform for process intensification of an array of bioconversion processes using diverse microbial biocatalysts for the production of high-value products or bioremediation applications.”

Speaking about the benefits of these 3D printed live cells, chemist Baker, the other corresponding author on the paper said, “There are several benefits to immobilizing biocatalysts, and including allowing continuous conversion processes simplifying product purification. This technology gives control over cell density, placement, and structure in living material. The ability to tune these properties can be used to improve production rates and yields. Furthermore, materials containing such high cell densities may take on new, unexplored beneficial properties because the cells comprise a large fraction of the materials.”

“This is the first demonstration for 3D printing immobilized live cells to create chemical reactors. This approach promises to make ethanol production faster, cheaper, cleaner and more efficient. Now we are extending the concept by exploring other reactions, including combining printed microbes with more traditional chemical reactors to create ‘hybrid’ or ‘tandem’ systems that unlock new possibilities”, said engineer Eric Duoss, a co-author on the paper.

Other researchers from LLNL include Cheng Zhu, Jennifer Knipe, Samantha Ruelas, Joshua Stolaroff, Joshua DeOtte, Eric Duoss, Christopher Spadaccini and Sarah Baker. This work was conducted in collaboration with the National Renewable Energy Laboratory.


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