The microfiltration and ultrafiltration processes are considered as matured membrane processes that are well established in industrial practice. Nevertheless, the main obstacles of their further development in the new competitive implementations are the economical problems. The key economic factors are permeate flux and energy consumption. However, although the cross-flow systems enable us to attain higher flux, it is usually very expensive. The high energy is consumed to maintain circulation velocity of the retentate that is sufficient for sweeping out the retained component from the membrane surface. Moreover in the case of cells separation the high intensity of the fouling and low cake permeability makes it necessary to apply additional efforts, such as backflushing, backpulsing, promoters of turbulence, vibrations, ultrasounds and many other. Therefore, dead-end systems are still quite competitive with cross-flow, especially for diluted (less than 0.5% of dry mass) suspensions or solutions.
Cell separation with membranes is one of the most vivid problems for modern biotechnology, wastewater and water treatment. Membranes offer mild process conditions and high selectivity of separation. This enables us to solve a variety of problems such as cell culturing, fractionation, concentration, purification and sterilisation. The selected cells may be precisely separated from other components of broth and subsequently directed into the reaction space again in good conditions to ensure a quasi-continuous mode of operation. Moreover, membranes enable us to attain high efficiency of the bioconversion by removal of all product and inhibitors directly from the bioreactor. This is the reason for the huge interest in cell separation with membranes.
The idea of the paper was to present the new concept of flux enhancement for cell separation on membranes. This concept lies in taking advantage of the specific rheological nature of biopolymers, which are the main foulants. The biopolymers retained on the membrane surface (i.e. on the top layer) can be applied as a lubricant for the cells that can settle on such a ‘movable layer’. As is shown, further in the paper, the thickness of the moving layer is lower and the flux is greater. The common movement of the cells and gel layer is very convenient from the cells integrity point of view. However the hydrodynamic conditions always play an important role in cross-flow systems; the resistance of ultrafiltration membranes may be reduced much more when compared with more open microfiltration membranes.