This paper reports on a study of the foaming characteristics of trehalolipid biosurfactants in fermentation broths and the utilisation of foaming to enable product recovery. Trehalolipids were produced by a recently isolated marine bacterium, Rhodococcus sp. PML026, in shake flasks and bioreactors. Fermentations were conducted with hexadecane as the carbon substrate. Hexadecane is an antifoam agent which supresses foam formation during fermentation, an advantageous effect during the growth and production phases. The aim of this work was to improve trehalolipid production and identify a suitable media formulation and process conditions to ensure the hexadecane substrate was depleted by the end of the fermentation to enable foaming to occur, allowing for product separation by foam fractionation. The results show that at a threshold biosurfactant concentration and with a residual amount of hexadecane vigorous foaming of the broth commenced in the bioreactor. Foam overflowed through the bioreactor condenser exit was found to separate 23-58% of the total trehalolipids with a product enrichment of 2.3-1.4. This study demonstrates for the first time a potential inexpensive and environmentally friendly strategy to separate trehalolipids from an emulsified fermentation broth.
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