Scaling up the production of biogenic magnetite nanoparticles


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Although there are numerous examples of large-scale commercial microbial synthesis routes for organic bioproducts, few studies have addressed the obvious potential for microbial systems to produce inorganic functional biomaterials at scale. Here we address this by focusing on the production of nano-scale biomagnetite particles by the Fe(III)-reducing bacterium Geobacter sulfurreducens, which was scaled-up successfully from lab-scale to pilot plant-scale production, whilst maintaining the surface reactivity and magnetic properties which make this material well suited to commercial exploitation. At the largest scale tested, the bacterium was grown in a 50 L bioreactor, harvested and then inoculated into a buffer solution containing Fe(III)-oxyhydroxide and an electron donor and mediator, which promoted the formation of magnetite in under 24 hours. This procedure was capable of producing up to 120 g biomagnetite. The particle size distribution was maintained between 10 and 15 nm during scale-up of this second step from 10 ml to 10 L, with conserved magnetic properties and surface reactivity; the latter demonstrated by the reduction of Cr(VI). The process presented provides an environmentally benign route to magnetite production and serves as an alternative to harsher synthetic techniques, with the clear potential to be used to produce kg to tonne quantities.

Supplement to: Byrne, JM et al. (2015): Scale-up of the production of highly reactive biogenic magnetite nanoparticles using Geobacter sulfurreducens. Journal of The Royal Society Interface, 12(107), 20150240
Date made available1 Jan 2015

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