Team:UC San Diego/Applied Design

Applied Design

With SynEco, our goal was to do more than just implement our modified ROBUST protocol on an industrially relevant scale: the objective was to have an informed approach towards applied design, by integrating feedback from our discussions with experts outside of our fields, our modeling, and economic analyses to arrive at the perfect solution.

Understanding our Thought Process

Integrating Feedback From Experts in the Lab, in Industry, and in Design

We wanted to consider the following questions. Click on each question to see what we discovered on our applied design journey.

Triton Algae

For cyanobacteria, what was the proper way to upscale the tagatose production?

A discussion with a team of scientists at Triton Algae helped us determine that for the first portion of our system, upscaling cyanobacteria would be a significant challenge. This referred to the idea that often, testing out new bioprocessing methods in the lab is quite different from the implications when we expand the scope of the method. The scientists thought that it was extremely likely that our approach to fixing fermentation would work on a large scale, but perhaps not to the same extent. In addition, one of the material scientists present determined that using photobioreactors or open pond systems would be the most ideal solution.

What did we do next?

We decided to perform a cost-benefit analysis for the two different types of systems, coming up with the following table. Ultimately, we decided that a photobioreactor system would be more ideal.

Abreos Biosciences

Within photobioreactors, what type of system would be most viable for us?

A discussion with the R&D director of Abreos Biosciences demonstrated that there were several different types of photobioreactors to choose from. The biggest factors in limiting photobioreactor efficiency included light penetration initial capital costs to build. In addition, we needed to figure out some strategies to allow for constant light penetration for cyanobacteria at different levels of the PBR.

What did we do next?

We decided to perform literature research and do a secondary cost-benefit analysis of the three main types of bioreactors, shown below. Ultimately, we thought that flat-panel bioreactors would be most ideal for our situation.

After this, we decided to implement some creative strategies to solve or limit the impact of problems in existing PBR technology. Check it out on the Innovation section of the page.

Mayfield Lab

What would be the key factors to make sure that our product fits existing needs?

A follow-up consultation with the Mayfield Lab, a national leader in biofuel research, led us to believe that perspective from a research setting could also be extremely beneficial to us. This led us to a discussion about the scale of the E. coli portion of our project; it became clear that we had to find a balance between the scale of our product and the quality. Often, the scale-up of bioreactors becomes very challenging because a number of different interactions come into play and lead to reduced overall efficiency.

What did we do next?

We decided that it would be more useful for us to scale up the initial portion of our project, and then use micro-bioreactor systems to ensure quality control of produced biological substances. This would allow for a relatively high efficiency for the initial part, and then ensure that there were fewer impurities in the products harvested from the E. coli.

Sun Genomics

A secondary consultation with design engineers suggested that we should also assess the environmental impact of our bioreactor. They encouraged us to think about the lifecycle of our platform, and how we were going to mitigate the usually high costs of implementing PBR technology. However, they also cautioned us that from an applied design perspective, we should focus on getting an initial idea down and then working in industry to test out these ideas as part of the design-build-test cycle.

What did we do next?

After considering all the factors in our discussion with Sun Genomics, we decided that a very important factor was simplified design and ease of implementation. Because advocating for stainless steel facilities would prove to be an unreasonable economic choice, we decided to pursue use of disposable or single-use bioreactor facilities in order to keep lean operations while preserving the quality of our end product.

Creating the Ideal Biomanufacturing Platform

SynEco is unique because of its modular approach, meaning that it can be used to produce a variety of biological substances. Its versatility is also aided by its single-use disposable mechanism, allowing for multi-product facilities to become more efficient and have shorter batch times. Opting for PBR technology also allowed us to offer advantages that many other biomanufacturing platforms currently do not possess, and use of PBR heightens this advantage.

SynEco offers the best in:

Scale: The hybrid of upscaling cyanobacteria while using microbioreactors for the E. coli component in our system ensures quality without sacrificing efficiency.

Economic Viability: Our system allows for a 50 fold reduction in costs for fermentation processes on an industrial scale, as shown by our calculations above.

Environmental Impact: Our Single-Use system minimizes environmental impact and has a longer, overall life cycle compared to standard stainless steel facilities.

Designed with existing consumers in mind, our system is integrable with any existing facility; its modular approach means that customers can choose what pieces they need and use them accordingly without impacting the overall system. Although it is optimal to use our ROBUST technology, we still offer a variety of other services for existing facilities and manage to integrate them seamlessly.

Ease of Implementation.

Packaged with smart design, our fully automated system allows for easy use for people of all professions. Using an app-based interface to control the different components has never been easier, and our user-friendly interface allows for even more efficiency as a user.

Innovation at every corner

Some of SynEco’s most impressive features include:

  • Engineering the most efficient pathway of tagatose in cyanobacteria
  • Minimizing impact of release with built-in biological safety locks
  • Using bioreactor engineering and modeling to ensure most effective style of PBR
  • Using a single-use disposable system to increase efficiency and decrease startup costs
  • Leveraging ROBUST-inspired technology to ensure lack of cross-contamination
  • Using a continuous processing method to always ensure batch efficiency
  • A fiberoptic system that uses internal lighting to give cyanobacteria at all levels an equitable chance for growth and light penetration

An Endless Range of Possibilities

Our system is designed for eventually producing a number of substances including:

Food products

Fermentation plays a major role in the production of certain foods, especially yogurt and dairy products which relies on conversion by microorganisms. Another place where our platform is directly applicable is the fermentation of alcoholic products such as beer and wine. Instead of converting glucose into food products, the same conversion pathway occurs with tagatose as the starting point

Industrial chemicals

Fermentation is also key in harvesting commodities such as organic acids, amino acids, biodegradable plastic components, and industrial enzymes. Our team envisions using SynEco to produce these substances in mass quantities without fear of contamination.

Vitamins and Pharmaceuticals

Microbes can synthesize many valuable substances that our bodies need, including Vitamin B-12. There is a large amount of this vitamin that can be synthesized based on fermentation from wastewater, and our system of xenobiotics allows this process to become even more efficient. Due to the complexity of synthesizing B12, fermentation remains the only option. This fermentation process is also a valuable part of producing other pharmaceuticals as well.


Fermentation also produces biofuels via conversion of glucose into ethanol. Out of all the production possibilities, this is the closest to reality since E. coli have been able to produce a wide variety of biofuels. In fact, one of our proposed business plans tries to capitalize on this opportunity.

Points of Improvement

The next phase in our process is to perform further benchtop bioreactor experiments, and then gradually scale up processes to confirm that our idea works as we hoped.

In addition, our biggest priority is to use genetic engineering is to engineer a transporter that could force the cyanobacteria to secrete the tagatose onto the growth medium directly instead of standard means of harvesting.