DrM’s Multi-Cycle Single-Use Filter Optimizes Biopharma Processes

SU Process

We at DrM figured out a novel multi-cycle filter solution for upstream microfiltration in biopharmaceutical processes, which extends the life of the filter bags and reduces cost significantly.

The FUNDABAC® SU Filter

Common technologies employed in upstream cell harvesting include centrifugation, tangential-flow filtration, and depth filtration, often times coupled together in larger scale operations. This new concept in single-use filtration separates solids from suspension using dead-end filtration to deposit a cake. Flat filter elements are packed close together inside a multi-layered plastic bag enclosure to provide room for solid depositions up to 8 mm thick and to maximize surface area. The plastic bag is designed with multiple layers to be able to withstand chemical environments, undergo high pressures, and reduce gas permeation. The plastic filter bag is installed in a pressure vessel to allow the bag to be compressed via gas to dewater the cake. This enables filtration of the liquid heel so that there is virtually no hold-up left in the filter chamber. The filter elements are constructed in HDPE with an average pore size between 0.8 – 1 μm. These elements are flexible and conform to the shape of the bag when external pressure is applied. These elements are also back-washable via a back- flush tank which uses pressurized filtrate to discharge the deposited solids from the filter media and let them settle to the bottom of the filter bag. This enables the filter to perform multiple filtration cycles prior to disposal since solids can accumulate from cycle to cycle until the bag is full. Once full, the bag can be compressed to recover the hold-up volume, and the bag containing the solid waste can be removed and disposed of safely. In-situ filtration, cake washing, dewatering, and discharging provide a simple operation that reduces equipment costs and increases overall throughput.

FUNDABAC SU process graphic

Advantages of the multi-cycle SU filter

This compact design significantly reduces disposal volume per weight of waste generated. For cell harvesting in extracellular protein expression, the volume of the containment under the filter elements can be increased to handle very high cell loads. Due to the shape and size of cells, filtration normally takes place with the addition of diatomaceous earth and/or cellulose to improve flow rates. Under this normal cake filtration, cells undergo relatively lower shear stress versus other filtration technologies, ensuring the integrity of the cells are maintained and that intracellular impurities are not released into the product.

The CONTIBAC® SU Filter – enhancement to the new SU design

In some processes, the filtered cells need to be discharged as thickened suspensions to pump downstream. In intracellular protein expression, the spent media must be replaced with a buffer solution to remove undesired impurities before undergoing cell lysis. An enhancement to the new SU design under consideration here incorporates an opening at the bottom for slurry discharge. This significantly extends the lifetime of the filter bag and increases filtration capacity. After cells are harvested and washed with a buffer solution, the filter elements can be back-flushed to transfer the concentrated cells downstream to be lysed. Disrupting the cells releases the desired proteins into the buffer solution and the lysed broth is re-filtered to remove the cell debris, isolating the lysate containing the desired product to send downstream to purification.

CONTIBAC SU process graphic

In continuous bioprocessing of cells, the cultures require continual supply of media to optimize growing conditions, as well as continuous removal of metabolites and product to prevent a toxic environment. This process allows for high-density cultures that maximize productivity in small bioreactors and increase titer levels. This SU design offers a solution to retain the cells in a recirculating loop off the bioreactor, while separating and replacing the supernatant. Perfusion bioreactors can sustain cell cultures for several weeks, which requires a robust, continuous filtration technology to be able to handle the high cell loads while maintaining continuous high product output.

The Importance of Rare Earth and its Filtration Applications

Rare earth application

DrM Systems Extensively Deployed in Mining Applications

All over the World, more than 150 filtration units are currently in operation in processes where Nickel, Copper, Lithium and Rare Earth Elements (RRE), only to name the most important ones, are produced.

The technical development over the last decades is resulting in an increased need of RREs for a variety of applications. This article focuses on Rare Earth Elements production and provides an overview about the process improvements allowed by FUNDABAC® and CONTIBAC® filtration systems.

REEs occupy position 57 to 71 in the lanthanide group of the periodic table. These elements are not rare in nature, as the name might seem to indicate, but rather, they are called rare because they are difficult to isolate from each other, as they are chemically very similar.

Most REEs are metals, and always occur as mixed ores with multiple RE components – when you find them in nature, the whole family shows up! This is different from other metal sources, such as iron or copper, which most commonly occur as a single metal.

Two commercially significant ores which contain REEs, monazite and bastnaesite, are embedded in sand (monazite) and rock formations (bastnaesite) and require hydro-metallurgical processing.

The heavier lanthanides (Gadolinium through Lutetium) are more prevalent in monazite ores, whereas bastnaesite ore is richer on light Rare Earth species (Lanthanum through Europium). Cerium, although a light REE is found in both ores and is actually the most abundant RE element found in nature. It is typically extracted as an oxide concentrate after cracking the mineral ore by solid/liquid separation. It has been used traditionally in glass polishing, as misch-metal, and as a petroleum refining catalyst where large tonnages are consumed. A new significant use of Cerium is in the catalytic converters of automobiles. Other REEs appear in smaller concentration in nature, but have significant commercial importance for some newer applications, found in all aspects of modern life: they are essential for hybrid and electric cars, LED lighting, electric generators in windmills, in medicine for MRI instruments, military uses, cell phones, tv’s – all at small concentrations in each of these devices, but the REEs provide unique functions in these applications. Like Lithium, REEs are labelled energy-critical elements and subject to market turbulences.

Over the past decades, China has been producing about 95% of REEs worldwide, and because of politics and policy this has caused several market upsets. As a result, other countries have increasingly been mining them for domestic sourcing.

The basic process starts with mining and grinding the ore and removing non-REE material (gangue) by flotation. Then the REE-rich powder undergoes a digestive treatment called “cracking”, which produces RE enriched solutions. Depending on ore type, either acids or caustics at elevated temperatures are used in this hydrometallurgical digestion step, producing RE sulfates or hydroxides, plus non-metal solids that are discharged for landfill. All these treatments produce RE concentrates that need further purification steps via solvent and counter-current extractions to isolate individual elements.

Advantages of FUNDABAC® Filters in Rare Earth Processing

FUNDABAC® filters are used to remove the mineral gangue solids from the REE-rich liquor created in the cracking step. Advantages of the FUNDABAC® are corrosion-resistant materials for filter vessel and internals, with plastic components (e.g. PP, PVDF, PPS) that can be applied in certain parts of the plant in place of high cost metal alloys which would be mandatory all over for a system with moving (e.g. rotating) parts.

Robust filter media with fine pore sizes provide the desired filtrate purity. In addition, FUNDABAC® filters allow for the washing of the filter cake in the same unit operation to increase yield of REEs. Depending on cake permeability, spray and/or displacement washing can be applied. Washing is also required for landfilling the cake to prevent groundwater contamination. Last but not least, the FUNDABAC® enables completely enclosed, fully automated operation. Safety is assured for operators working with aggressive fluids at temperatures exceeding 100˚C. Most important, monazite ores contain Thorium and Uranium, which can be safely removed as gases in the enclosed filtration equipment.

CONTIBAC® thickeners may be employed as slurry discharge, higher capacity alternative in isolating cerium oxide from bastnaesite after HCl leaching. If instead a FUNDABAC® filter is installed, again cake washing is used to remove as much liquor as possible, since it contains light REEs. Recovering product and cake washing with a single processing unit streamlines the process and significantly reduces equipment costs. The washed REE of Cerium concentrate is then refined by other technologies.

Modern REE processing facilities recycle spent brines, caustic and salts to reduce raw material cost and minimize waste generation. In these auxiliary operations, FUNDABAC® and CONTIBAC® filters are also used to clarify the weak brine and polish the feed to the electrolyzers. Electrolyzers membranes are very susceptible to even small amount of suspended solids and the superior filtrate quality provided by FUNDABAC® and CONTIBAC® filters (less than 0.3-0.5 ppm for particles as small as 0.5-1 µm) has allowed their successful application upstream of hundreds of electrolytic cells, both in the mining industry and elsewhere.

Why Lithium and why Lithium Hydroxide?

As the insatiable demand for energy coupled with ever our increasing need for mobility continues at a furious pace, so too grows the demand for lithium compounds. Demand from the lithium battery market from all applications including mobile devices like mobile phones and tablets, e-bikes, hybrid and electric vehicles and large scale energy storage is growing at an astounding rate. Deutsche Bank believes we are at the dawn of a new automotive era with “unprecedented technological and regulatory change” set to come in the next 5 years.”

Many analysts acknowledge that batteries use will drive lithium demand in the future. It has been predicted that overall, lithium demand will more than double from present levels through 2025. Currently there is insufficient supply due to fewer than expected producers of lithium. The general conclusion is that lithium prices will rise, particularly, battery grade lithium carbonate and lithium hydroxide should see strong price increases.

Tesla Motors, LG Chem, Boston Power BYD and Foxconn are building battery supper-plants that will come on-stream in the next one to two years. The new supply could revolutionise how we source and use energy, creating a once-in-a-century disruptive event. Last year, the world produced 35GWh worth of battery cells. Total new capacity of 87 GWh should require an additional 70,000t to 100,000t of LCE [lithium carbonate equivalent] by 2021, this supply currently does not exist and requires new producers to come on stream.

Up until very recently lithium carbonate has been the focus of many producers for battery applications. This is because existing battery designs called for cathodes using this raw material. This is about to change. Supply of lithium hydroxide, which is also a key battery cathode raw material, is far less than lithium carbonate at present. It is a more niche product than lithium carbonate, but is also used by major battery producers that are competing with the industrial lubricant industry for the same raw material. Lithium hydroxide is subsequently expected to be in an even shorter supply situation to its carbonate counterpart.

Key advantages of Lithium Hydroxide Battery Cathodes vs. Other Chemical Compounds include better power density (more battery capacity), longer life cycle and enhanced safety features.

Battery grade lithium hydroxide prices are in the range of US$8,375/t to US$8,700/t. In Korea and Japan battery grade lithium hydroxide sell from between US$8,800 to US$10,500. Both Japan and Korea are known to produce high quality lithium batteries. SignumBox forecast the price of lithium hydroxide to steadily increase reaching US$12,000/t by 2031.

Leaders such as Tesla have selected lithium hydroxide batteries for their vehicles. Other auto manufacturers are using designs which can easily switch from lithium carbonate to lithium hydroxide in the future. This is a likely scenario given lithium hydroxide can provide better power density and thereby range.

The battery chemistry is all about range and energy density. This is really game-changing technology. If batteries are the holy grail of the EV, then energy density is the holy grail of batteries and this will come down to the raw materials used.

Why DrM’s FUNDABAC® filtration system?

This all helps to explain the upsurge of companies seeking to build high purity Lithium Hydroxide plants similar to the two streams under construction in Western Australia for the Chinese company Tianqi. DrM have supplied a range of FUNDABAC® polishing and guard filters for various extraction and purification steps for these two streams.

The fully automated DrM FUNDABAC® filtration systems were selected by Tianqi following their experience with the long-term reliability and ease of operation that has been demonstrated with the FUNDABAC® filters in operation with Tianqi in China on their Lithium Carbonate plants since 2010. This experience gave Tianqi the confidence that the FUNDABAC® technology was the best available technology for the strategically important new high purity Lithium Hydroxide plant in Western Australia. In the meantime a number of orders with other clients both in North and South America have been secured.

We are actively working on a number of other hard rock (Spodumene) Lithium extraction projects in Australia, as Spodumene offers a more direct refining route to Lithium Hydroxide than brine processing. Processing brine comes directly to Lithium Carbonate, but should not be ignored in the long term as it is still used and will continue to be used for the cathodes in most current battery technology and the lithium carbonate can be converted to lithium hydroxide and the predicted demand and pricing is expected to keep this an economically viable route.

From our SEA base we are working together with the potential Lithium Hydroxide refiners and specialist engineering companies for mineral processing to help develop the various different extraction process required for the various Spodumene geologies. Our hope and target is to be providing further FUNDABAC® process and guard filters to the new plants that are currently in the planning and feasibility stages.

A major contribution to the world lithium market has come from Australia, the country currently being the biggest influencer, with Chile coming a close second.

The role of South America is also well established, with numerous countries in the continent producing and exporting large quantities of the mineral. In recent times, much of the world’s investment attention has been focusing on the Lithium Triangle, which comprises sections of NW Argentina, northern Chile and Bolivia.

Aside from Australia and South America, we also received two orders from Nemaska in Quebec, Canada in December 2018. These filters purify lithium sulphate in a novel process for high purity hydroxides and carbonates of lithium.

Nemaska owns a mine with high quality lithium ore and reserves for over 30 years. Our filters are part of a hydrometallurgical plant that convert spodumene ore into high purity lithium compounds for EV batteries. Nemaska will benefit from low cost electricity available in Quebec to compete on the world market. It is the first large scale lithium ore processing operation in North America to move forward into production and we are proud to be part of their project. Whilst lithium demand is growing, prices have been going down due to several factors and Nemaska is facing some headwinds, but the economics should be in Nemaska’s favor since the spodumene is available without royalties and at extremely low energy costs.

Automated Amine Clean-Up Systems for World-Scale Sour Gas Treatment Plants

sour gas treatment

High efficient Solid/Liquid Separation

The effective and efficient removal of H2S, CO2 and other contaminants from gas streams is a key issue in the Oil & Gas industry. This is normally achieved by wet scrubbing using a proprietary alkanol amine (for example, MEA. MDEA. DEA, OASE) to “sweeten” the sour gas.

The amine solvent is regenerated by passing the it through a regeneration column. However, the amine solvent becomes contaminated with insoluble solids, which cause corrosion in the scrubber and pipework and, more critically, foaming and fouling in the regeneration column.

In order to eliminate these issues, filters are often fitted to the lean amine stream to remove the insoluble solid contaminants. It is typical to fit these to a 10% or 20% slip stream.

Whilst various types of replaceable cartridge type filters have been used on the lean amine slip streams, these have proven to be maintenance and OPEX intensive. The DrM FUNDABAC® has shown to provide a far superior solution, due to the ability to automatically discharge the collected solids as a dry cake and because of the very low maintenance requirements and OPEX associated with this special design of filter from DrM.

To date more that 120 DrM FUNDABAC® filtration plants have been supplied for this gas sweetening process, on a range of medium and large plant sizes. If you would like further more detailed information on the FUNDABAC® technology, amine treatment process, capabilities and economics, please contact us at our of our offices.

The Importance of Lab & Pilot Testing

We at DrM believe that lab scale and pilot testing are indispensable tools for selection, sizing and validation of process equipment.

This is why we offer a unique fleet of testing and rental equipment ranging from a 0.001 m2 lab Nutsche, via our 0.012 m2 TSD pocket filter and mono-candle pilot units up to full scale production skids. Our skilled laboratory staff and process specialists are at your disposal to solve almost every filtration problem.

A new or unknown filtration task usually starts with Nutsche tests followed by lab scale trials on our TSD pocket filter. These tests are often performed at DrM’s in-house filtration laboratory using the original product mixtures at realistic condition whenever possible. Clients are invited to attend the testing, become an eye-witness and discuss the results as they are generated. Already at this stage important data on flow, pressure, filtrate quality, residual moisture, washing yield, filter aid demand and other parameters are determined. After significant lab scale testing it is possible to size the full-scale production equipment, provide budgetary quotes and preliminary layouts.

In a next step larger scale testing on mono-candle pilot units or semi-scale demonstration units follows under most realistic conditions. During such campaigns the lab results are refined and the processes are optimized. The goal now is to achieve a stable and continuous operation, gain experience and fine-tune the filtration system. The insight serves the process engineer and plant designer for sound planning and specification of the full-scale production equipment. After the execution of significant pilot tests the determination of a performance or process guarantee is normally possible.

Test Report:

A consistent and precise testing procedure must be accompanied with an efficient and functional reporting system. For this DrM developed its own test reporting database which is running in the cloud and can be accessed by our whole team. This allows our service engineers and partners to get access from anywhere around the World. Data is entered in an organised fashion and reports including graphical views are produced within minutes. Pictures and videos taken during the testing can be added to document the trials. The system can be accessed on mobile devices, laptops or through any web browser.

DrM’s Recently Launched Webshop

In digital networking along the value chains and the entire life cycle of market / product services, DrM, Dr. Mueller AG has great economic potential. An individual combination of technologies, methods, data, models, services and processes contributes to on-going process optimisations.

In addition to product development, DrM also invests significantly in the extension of suitable interfaces to its customers and representatives.

The continuing development of the DrM online shop offers our customer a platform where all of his procured filters are listed, showing specifically selected spare parts for these plants. Through its use, it is possible to transmit offers and orders electronically in real time. The resulting increased customer satisfaction combined with better cost effectiveness, performance efficiency and productivity is thus achieved.

The clear and easy-to-understand structure allows error-free data processing resulting in satisfactory services to the benefits of our customers and representatives.

 

Key Benefits:

  • All products at a glance
  • Digital transformation
  • Documentation
  • Easy to use
  • Flexibility / individuality
  • Low error rate
  • Information transparency
  • Technical Assistance
  • Networking
  • Time savings (no waiting times)

FUNDAMIX® S

The FUNDAMIX® S is a new generation vibratory mixer with a patented technology which gets rid of the conventional spring system replacing those with carbon fibre material. The main advantage of such a redesign is its amazingly quiet operation. So, for pharmaceutical or biotech labs where noise is an issue, such type of equipment is of essence. Momentarily the equipment comes in one size which can cover mixing volumes up to approx. 500 litres.

The plate oscillates at about 50 Hz. At an amplitude of 5 mm this gives the unit a maximum “tip speed” of 390 mm/sec which is significantly lower than the 1250 mm/sec of a typical rotating agitator with 200 mm impeller blades at 120 rpm. The unit can operate with different plate diameters. The 145 mm plate is typically used for tanks with 400 – 500 mm diameter and 200 litres liquid volume while the 210 mm plate can operate in 500 – 700 mm tanks with up to 500 litres liquid volume.

The drive unit comes in a polished stainless steel housing. The internal parts are easily accessible through the bolted openings.

The FUNDAMIX® S is the first incarnation of a new generation of FUNDAMIX® vibratory mixers. It plays a crucial factor in the Biotech industry where shear forces are important considerations in agitator designs. The quiet operation is ideal in a laboratory and pilot plant setting where constant operator presence is required.

Watch the difference between our FUNDAMIX® and our FUNDAMIX® S (sound is required):

FUNDABAC® SU – Multi-Batch Filtration System For The Flavor & Fragrance Industry

Meeting the Product Processing Goals of Flavor & Fragrance Manufacturers:

Flavor and fragrance manufacturers demand a high level of product quality and processing safety. Flavors and fragrances must be filtered to achieve desired standards of clarity, color and stability. Filtration needs range from clarification to final polishing.

The FUNDABAC® SU filter provides producers of flavors and fragrances with process flexibility and allows them to meet stringent product quality and processing safety requirements. The FUNDABAC® SU filter is not only capable of capturing solid particulate matter, including microbial contaminants, in flavor and fragrance products, but can also reduce haze, absorb essential oil, as well as remove insoluble waxes/ lipids, unwanted water and color.

Operational Principle:

DrM’s new single-use filter type, FUNDABAC® SU, consists of large surface area filter elements, packed into a fully contained plastic enclosure. The increased surface area boosts the filtration efficiency and results in a higher throughput. The filter bag is installed in a pressure vessel during filtration.

This unique system design allows for single batch or multi-batch product processing.
For multi-batch operation the solids can be flushed back from the filter elements and accumulated on the bottom of the bag. When desired, materials such as cellulose fibers, activated carbon, diatomaceous earth, bleaching earth or magnesium silicate adsorbent media can be injected into the plastic bag enclosure with the goal of coating the filter elements in order to reduce, adsorb or remove the non-particulate undesirables previously mentioned.

Key Advantages:

  • High product yield relative to filter media surface area
  • No cross-contamination
  • Virtually no liquid heel volume
  • Fully enclosed environment
  • No cleaning-in-place required
  • No operator contact with liquids or solids, therefore safe operation
  • Quick and easy disposable bag installation and replacement, minimal downtime
  • Lab and pilot size models for trials and scalability
  • Small footprint as a result of its compact design

DrM at Achema 2018

Once again the chemical processing World is in the midst of its preparation for the biggest show in its field: Achema 2018 in Frankfurt. Also at DrM activities are being intensified to get ready for the event in June.

However, this year the stakes are especially high: Some time back we started with a number of development projects which are coming to a closing end and we will use the show to introduce those to the broader industry. We are proud to have no less than 5 new patents and patent applications which we will show off in form of working products, models or animations. As a teaser to this important event we want to let you have a sneak peek into our presentations. But please take the opportunity to come and see us at our booth and get a life demonstration of these innovations. Because there’s nothing better than the real thing!

FUNDABAC® Overfill Protection Device 

Damage of filter internals due to overloading with solids can be a major headache for operators who run filtration systems at certain conditions.  Various designs, devices and instruments to prevent such incidences have been developed in the past but often not with satisfactory results. We now have chosen an entirely different route which we will present to you. The patented device can be installed both in new and existing filter systems and will help protect your equipment. 

FUNDAMIX® S

The legendary vibratory mixer which has been on the market for the last few decades has its well established clientele in the pharma and biotech industry. It is a proven technology with thousands of units in operation. But now we are taking a big leap to an entirely new vibratory design. And it will be so silent you would not believe it is in operation.

 

FUNDABAC® SU Single Use Filter Technology

The biotech industry is jumping more and more onto Single Use technology. It promises a number of advantages to the traditional stainless steel equipment. But existing single use filtration technology seems to rely on old principles. At DrM we were hard at work to come up with an entirely new device which will significantly reduce operating cost. We have done it the typical DrM fashion and developed an entirely new process around a novel single use filter design to come up with a compact and cost efficient equipment. And it is not only for biotech. Also chemical companies have shown interest for cases where operators need to be protected from hazardous substances.

 

FUNDAMIX® SU - Full AssemblyFUNDAMIX® SU Single Use Mixing Technology

Vibratory devices are very well suited for single use equipment as rotating parts often create sealing issues. Lacklustre mixing devices for single use equipment on the market hardly have any punch. The FUNDAMIX® with its extremely effective high frequency mixing plate can create amazing mixing results at low shear forces. The complete system is patented and will be presented in conjunction with the FUNDABAC® SU.

 

Single Use Valve

This innovative valve was developed due to the need to find a single use ON/OFF valve which can operate at higher pressures required for filtration. Most of the items on the market can only pinch tubes at atmospheric pressure or require an expensive replacement head for every change. This single use pinch valve can securely operate at 4 bar pressure and does not require any replacement parts apart from the single use tubing.

 

So, if you make it to the Achema this year, take the opportunity to visit us at our booth: Hall 5.0 / Stand B16. We will have enough people present not to keep you waiting.

Introducing Patented FUNDABAC® Overfill Protection Device (OPD)

Filtration involves separation of two phases while one phase passes through a media and the other is retained. The retained phase accumulates in the filter and if not removed at certain intervals, it can lead to all sorts of complications, such as difficulties during removal, blocking or even disastrous damage of the filtering device. There were a number of attempts to control or monitor the loading of filters but results have been mediocre. This has to do with the fact that it is difficult to measure phase differences such as solid/liquid-phases inside the filtering device.

 

 

Solution:

DrM now developed and patented a new device which does not attempt to monitor the phase but rather the forces acting on the filtering device. When overfilling occurs the filtering elements are displaced and such displacement is detected and a signal indicates that filtration shall be terminated.

The design incorporates distance sensors which are mounted above certain sections of the filtering device. Displacements of a few mm are enough to activate a signal.