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What is a Fermenter?

An apparatus for growing organisms (yeast, bacteria or animal cells) under controlled conditions. Used in industrial processes to produce pharmaceuticals, vaccines or antibiotics. Also used to convert raw materials into useful byproducts such as in the bioconversion of corn into ethanol.

Fermenter give the cells a controlled environment by ensuring the same temperature,  pH and oxygen levels.

The term fermentation is derived from Latin fermentum to ferment, and it has been used to describe the metabolism of sugars by microorganisms since ancient times.

Before World War II, however, fermentation processes mainly found their application in the food area and it was with the introduction of the penicillin production that large-scale fermentation was first used in the production of pharmaceuticals.

The entire process can be divided in three stages

  • Stage I : Upstream processing which involves preparation of liquid medium, separation of particulate and inhibitory chemicals from the medium, sterilization, air purification etc.,
  • Stage II: Fermentation which involves the conversion of substrates to desired product with the help of biological agents such as microorganisms; and
  • Stage III: Downstream processing which involves separation of cells from the fermentation broth, purification and concentration of desired product and waste disposal or recycle.


  • Main function of a Fermenter is to provide a controlled environment for the growth of microorganisms or animal cells, to obtain a desired product. In designing and constructing a fermenter a number of points must be considered:
  • A fermentation process requires a fermenter for successful production because it provides the following facilities for the process such as contamination free environment, specific temperature maintenance, maintenance of agitation and aeration, pH control, monitoring Dissolved Oxygen (DO), ports for nutrient and reagent feeding, ports for inoculation and sampling, fittings and geometry for scale up, minimize liquid loss and growth facility for wide range of organisms.
  • The vessel should be capable of being operated aseptically for a number of days and should be reliable in long-term operation and meet the requirements of containment regulations.
  • Adequate aeration and agitation should be provided to meet the metabolic requirements of the micro-organism. The mixing should not cause damage to the organism.
  • Power consumption should be as low as possible.
  • A system of temperature control should be provided.
  • A system of pH control should be provided.
  • Sampling facilities should be provided.
  • Evaporation losses from the fermenter should not be excessive.
  • The vessel should be designed to require the minimal use of labour in operation, harvesting, cleaning and maintenance.
  • Ideally the vessel should be suitable for a range of processes, but this may be restricted because of containment regulations.
  • The vessel should be constructed to ensure smooth internal surfaces, using welds instead of flange joints whenever possible.
  • The vessel should be of similar geometry to both smaller and larger vessels in the pilot plant or plant to facilitate scale-up.

Construction materials

In fermentations with strict aseptic requirements it is important to select materials that can withstand repeated steam sterilization cycles. It is possible to use glass and/or stainless steel. Glass is useful because it gives smooth surfaces, is non-toxic, corrosion proof and it is usually easy to examine the interior of the vessel.


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Science Blogger

I’m a life long learner who loves reading, painting, sci-fi and travelling. As the publisher of The Sciencelock, I edits the website Features and writes articles across the publication.

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